Culture Secretary scraps plans to privatise Channel 4

Culture Secretary Michelle Donelan has reversed plans by Boris Johnson’s government to privatise Channel 4.

Her department confirmed a letter to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, leaked to the News Agents podcast, in which Donelan said there are “better ways to secure [Channel 4’s] sustainability and that of the independent production sector”.

Donelan recommends keeping Channel 4 in public ownership, allowing it to borrow more money from the Treasury, and enabling it to make more programs in house, a proposal that could see fewer programs made by smaller production companies.
Their trade organisation PACT – the Producers Alliance for Cinema and Television – welcomed the reversal on selling Channel 4 but noted concern about in-house production: “Any relaxation of Channel 4’s publisher-broadcaster status will be a blow to the sector, who are already facing increased production and business related costs.”

Channel 4 is owned by the state but funded commercially, largely through advertising. Unlike other private broadcasters, Channel 4 has been required to reinvest its profits into making distinctive television and barred from making its own programs.

The Johnson plan to take the broadcaster out of public ownership – announced by Donelan’s predecessor Nadine Dorries – was widely opposed in the British media industry and criticised, even by some Tory MPs, as a politically motivated attack in a “culture war” on broadcast media that also included pressure on the BBC and suggestions to scrap the television licence fee which funds it.
A public consultation on the Channel 4 sale commissioned by the department for digital, culture, media and sport showed just 2 per cent in favour.

Dorries, no longer a cabinet minister, lashed out at the policy reversal on Twitter, saying it would now be “almost impossible to face the electorate” at the next general election: “Three years of a progressive Tory government being washed down the drain. Levelling up, dumped. Social care reform, dumped. Keeping young and vulnerable people safe online, watered down. A bonfire of EU leg, not happening. Sale of C4 giving back £2bn reversed. Replaced with what?”

At least £2 million of government money has already been spent on the privatisation plans, including hiring investment bankers.

Leak to News Agents podcast
Government to sell Channel 4
Channel 4 and BBC under threat
Media priorities for the Sunak government