The privatisation of Channel 4 being considered by the Government would amount to an “ideological fire-sale”, Labour has said.
Leaked documents yesterday suggested that the Government is looking to sell off the public broadcaster to private owners.
“This shows Ministers have been deceiving the public when they said that ownership of Channel 4 is ‘not currently under debate’. Options for privatisation have clearly already been drawn up,” said Michael Dugher, the shadow culture secretary.
“Channel 4 produces distinct and important public content and the broadcaster should remain not-for-profit. An ideological fire-sale of Channel 4 is not in the public interest.”
“Matt Hancock must now make clear exactly what role he and the Cabinet Office have had in any discussions about the future of the channel,” he said.
Papers carried by an unidentified official on his way into Number 10 were on Thursday photographed by a Downing Street political photographer, Steve Back.
The documents, which are partially redacted, say “In your recent meeting with Matt Hancock you … extracting greater public value from the Channel 4 Corporation, focusing on privatisation options in particular whilst protecting …”
The paper carried a partially visible “Recommendation” heading and asks the Secretary of State to “indicate whether you are content with…” something written under that heading.
The memo is dated 24 September 2015 and is addressed to two unnamed secretaries of State. It is marked “Official – sensitive: commercial”. Matt Hancock, mentioned in the memo, is the Cabinet Office minister.
The documents appear to contradict a statement made by Conservative Culture Secretary John Whittingdale late last month, who denied that privatisation was under discussion.
Labour’s shadow minister without portfolio Jon Ashworth said the Government needed to explain why it had previously said privatisation was not being looked at.
Channel 4 is publicly owned and has a remit to provide a certain amount of public service broadcasting. Under like the BBC the channel sustains itself through the sale of adverts and other commercial activities.
Controversial Channel 4 programmes
Controversial Channel 4 programmes
1/10 Benefits Street
The first series of Benefits Street made a star of James Turner Street resident White Dee (pictured). Last year, the programme caused as much controversy as Top Gear, being criticised for benefiting the ratings rather than the people who are in it.
2/10 The Undateables
It first aired in 2012, featuring disabled singletons on a quest for love. Critics attacked the marketing of the reality TV show as "sensationalist", "harmful" and akin to exploitative Victorian "freak shows", but Channel 4 argued that the campaign and title was a reflection of society's own prejudices.
3/10 Dogging Tales
The show was the most watched programme by 16-34 year olds, causing reactions on the disturbing range of animal masks worn by the “doggers”, and on the statistic reported on the show that 70 per cent of lorry drivers go dogging.
4/10 Big Fat Gypsy Weddings
The show has been a ratings winner for Channel 4, but it was criticised by the Traveller community, saying it fuels discrimination and portrays their lives inaccurately.
5/10 The Paedophile Hunter
The documentary shone a light into the murky world of internet vigilantism. In it, online vigilante Stinson Hunter and his associates lure and trap sexual predators by posing as underage children online, and then pass evidence on to the police and post it online.
6/10 Sex Box
In the show couples have sex in a soundproofed box and then discuss it with a panel of experts afterwards. Our reviewer called it a titillation that masquerades as serious television.
7/10 Drugs Live: The Ecstasy Trial
Hosted by Jon Snow, the programme showed people trying Ecstasy live on air. Actor and comedian Keith Allen volunteered to help the live study on the effect of the drug.
8/10 Angry White and Proud
The documentary showed some of the less salubrious sides of far right groups and activities in this country, showing evidence that whilst it is true that actual street base support has dropped, this does not take into account how the narratives of these extreme groups has pervaded and spread across the internet.
9/10 Ukip: The First 100 Days
The documentary received over 6,500 complaints after it imagined former Ukip leader Nigel Farage as Prime Minister.
10/10 Married at First Sight
Documentary programme featured three couples, two of whom decided to get married without having previously met. Cameras followed them through their wedding night, honeymoon and their first few weeks of living together.
The channel's sale has been mooted before but has never been followed through on.
“The ownership of Channel 4 is not currently under debate. Do I say there are no circumstances in which I would ever consider it? No I don’t,” he told the Guardian Edinburgh International Television Festival.
A spokesperson for the Department for Culture Media and Sport today told the Independent it was considering various courses of action and did not deny that privatisation was on the table as an option.
“The Government has made no decisions regarding reform of Channel 4,” the spokesperson said. “Channel 4 has an important remit and we are looking at a range of options as to how to continue to deliver this, including options put forward by Channel 4."Reuse content