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Leaked document suggests government is pursuing Channel 4 privatisation

Rumours of government plans to privatise Channel 4 have gained traction after a civil servant was photographed entering Downing Street holding a document which detailed options for a sell-off.

The document is reveals proposals to raise £1bn for the Treasury through privatisation and follows months of speculation surrounding the future of the state-owned, commercially funded broadcaster.

The clearly visible photograph of the leaked document was taken by Steve Back on Thursday and reads: “Work should proceed to examine the options of extracting greater public value from the Channel 4 corporation, focusing on privatisation options in particular.”

A senior civil servant within the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) has been identified as the author, suggesting that John Whittingdale is pursuing the option despite denying it in several speeches in recent weeks.

In August, Whittingdale told the Guardian Edinburgh international television festival that “The ownership of Channel 4 is not currently under debate”. The leaked document suggests otherwise though and one Tory insider strengthened the rumours when he told The Guardian that “John Whittingdale is interested and wants to do it”.

In a statement, the DCMS said the government has made “no decisions regarding reform of Channel 4” but confirmed that it was “looking at a range of options” including those put forward by Channel 4.

Dated 24 September, the document states that the government’s next step should be to should ask Channel 4 to open its books to enable “more meaningful options analysis”.

Channel 4 executives have been strongly opposed to privatisation options and the broadcaster’s chairman, Lord Burns, is has put forth his own options centred on Channel 4 continuing as a not-for-profit operation.

A Channel 4 representative said the not-for-profit model enabled it to “deliver significant public value to viewers and the UK economy with a unique remit focused on innovation, diversity and new talent.”

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