Tory Backlash To Channel 4 Sell-Off Grows As Jeremy Hunt And Ruth Davidson Criticise Plan

Government says privatisation will help the broadcaster "thrive in the face of a rapidly-changing media landscape".
A general view of the Channel 4 Television Headquarters (Photo by John Walton/PA Images via Getty Images)
A general view of the Channel 4 Television Headquarters (Photo by John Walton/PA Images via Getty Images)
John Walton - PA Images via Getty Images

The government is facing a growing Tory backlash to its plans to sell off Channel 4.

Former culture secretary Jeremy Hunt and ex-Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson have come out against the plans, which were revealed last night.

Meanwhile, senior Tory backbencher Tom Tugenhadt said he was “pretty doubtful” about the wisdom of the move.

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport said the sell-off would allow the channel to “thrive in the face of a rapidly-changing media landscape” while a government source said the move would “remove Channel 4’s straitjacket”.

But Hunt, the former culture secretary, told Sky News: “I’m not in favour of it because I think that as it stands, Channel 4 provides competition to the BBC on what’s called public service broadcasting — the kinds of programmes that are not commercially viable — and I think it’d be a shame to lose that.”

Asked why he thought the government was going ahead with the move and whether money from the sale was a factor, Hunt said: “I don’t know.

“And I’m not against privatisation in in other contexts, but what I’m in favour of is competition.

“And I think that we have very high standard of broadcasting in this country because we have competition not just in the very popular soap operas and boxsets and series that are going to be commercially very successful, but we also have competition in other areas, like news and documentaries, which are not likely to be commercially viable.

“And I think it’s really important to maintain that competition and I do think Channel Four is part of that ecosystem.”

Davidson, who is now a Tory peer said on Twitter that selling Channel 4 was the “opposite of levelling up”.

Tugendhat, who is chair of the foreign affairs committee, said: “Given the success Channel 4 has been in promoting independent production around the UK, I remain to be convinced this is going to achieve the aim the government has set out. I’ll be listening but I’m pretty doubtful.”

On Monday night, former Cabinet minister Damian Green said Channel 4 privatisation was “very unconservative” and that “Mrs Thatcher, who created it, never made that mistake”.

And Peter Bottomley, the longest-serving MP in parliament, said privatisation was “bad for the diversity of television, bad for viewers and bad for independent producers”.

The move represents the government’s latest shakeup of broadcast media following its decision earlier this year to freeze the BBC licence fee for two years.

The licence fee funding deal expires in 2027.

Channel 4 was launched 1982 as a publicly-owned, commercially-funded public service broadcaster with a remit to deliver content to under-served audiences.

It does not receive public funding but is ultimately owned by the government, with all money going back into the broadcaster, which commissions all of its programmes from independent producers.

No price tag has been set by the government yet, but reports suggest the channel could be fetch as much as £1 billion.

A spokesperson for the channel said it was “disappointed” with the decision to sell it off, but that it would “continue to engage” with ministers on the process to “ensure that Channel 4 continues to play its unique part in Britain’s creative ecology and national life”.

Labour’s shadow culture secretary Lucy Powell likened the privatisation to “cultural vandalism”.

“Selling off Channel 4, which doesn’t cost the tax-payer a penny anyway, to what is likely to be a foreign company, is cultural vandalism,” she said.

“It will cost jobs and opportunities in the North and Yorkshire, and hit the wider British creative economy.

“This shows that the Conservatives have run out of ideas and run out of road. Of all the issues the public wants action on, the governance of Channel 4 isn’t one.”


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