Channel 4 privatisation would be an 'ideological fire-sale', Labour says

Leaked documents suggest the Government wants to sell off the public broadcaster

Jon Stone
Friday 25 September 2015 11:33
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Channel 4 launched in 1982
Channel 4 launched in 1982

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.

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."

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