Peers call for putative Channel 4 sell-off to be aborted
A cross-party group of peers have warned the government against mounting any move to sell-off Channel 4 on the basis that a private sector owner may curtail current affairs, film and diversity programming in an effort to maximise profits.
The House of Lords Communications Committee flatly rejected arguments put forward by culture secretary John Whittingdale suggesting that a commercially funded though still state-owned broadcaster would actually be in a stronger position.
Committee chair Lord Best remarked: “Channel 4 boasts an array of innovative and creative programming as well as a strong commitment to public service broadcasting.
“This is evident from its distinct news and current affairs coverage, it’s much lauded contribution to cinema through Film4, and its pioneering approach to on-screen diversity. However, we fear that these qualities would be jeopardised were the channel to be sold off.”
Of chief concern to critics is the fact that Ofcom does not have the power to revoke Channel 4’s license should new owners renege on the stations public service commitments.
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The warning comes after culture secretary John Whittingdale was attacked last month by Labour’s Maria Eagle for allegedly misleading MPs over plans to privatise the broadcaster, after it emerged he met a cabinet office minister to discuss ‘reform’ options just days before declaring privatisation was not an option.
Channel 4's chief executive David Abraham has been one of many openly voicing an opposition to the privatisation plans, saying propensity to take creative risks would be dampened and consequently its value to advertisers eroded if it were under private ownership.
ITN's chief executive John Hardie’s is similarly concerned about the prospect of Channel 4 being part-privatised, telling The Drum: “Channel 4 News and current affairs is a treasure and fulﬁls a very important democratic function for pluralism… with a major focus on international news and news not covered elsewhere. I would advocate with my dying breath that, whatever models are being considered, it must not be lost.”
Separately the committee asserted that Channel 4 was well placed to weather market volatility in the wake of a decision to leave the EU amidst heightened volatility in the advertising sector.