Channel 4 warns consultation its privatisation may cause British public ‘harm'

The broadcaster's submission claims the consultation failed to outline other options.

There is “no evidence” the privatisation of Channel 4 will benefit British audiences or the UK economy, and may in fact “cause them harm”, according to the broadcaster.

The Government is currently consulting on plans to privatise the channel, which could be sold off to a private buyer.

At present, the channel, which was founded in 1982, is owned by the Government and receives its funding from advertising.

Cabinet Meeting
Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden (Victoria Jones/PA)

Channel 4 said in its response: “Having considered all the available analysis extremely carefully, we have concluded there is no evidence that the irreversible transfer of Channel 4 from the British public into private commercial hands will be of benefit to either British audiences or the UK economy, and may indeed cause them harm.”

The channel said “the evidence suggests that continued public ownership of Channel 4 would create the right conditions not only to overcome the audience and competitive challenges the Government has rightly identified, but also to ensure that public service broadcasting in the UK continues to thrive”.

It also raised concerns that moving Channel 4 into private ownership could result in “reduced diversity and quality of content for UK viewers”.

The Government has said it is consulting on privatisation because it wants to ensure the long-term survival of the channel in the face of the streaming giants and growing pressure on advertising revenue.

However, Channel 4’s submission claims the consultation failed to outline “other options that could seek to bolster Channel 4 in the long term without the risks that will be caused by a change in ownership”.

According to the broadcaster, these include updating legislation on public service prominence to apply across digital platforms and reviewing the commercial relationships between platforms and publishers through the new digital markets unit.

The submission also includes research commissioned by the broadcaster suggesting the majority of Conservative viewers oppose the privatisation of Channel 4.

An audience survey of 2,000 people conducted by Tapestry in July 2021 found once Channel 4’s model was explained to the sample, 82% of UK adults aged 18–75 said the channel should remain publicly-owned.

This included 75% of Conservative voters and 75% of people in Scotland.

A Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport spokesperson said: “We want Channel 4 to have a successful and sustainable future.

“Its public service broadcaster remit, its ability to make distinctive content and its work with independent producers are precisely the strengths we would protect and expect any potential buyer to develop through new investment, should we decide to proceed with a sale.”

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