Netflix or Amazon could take over Channel 4, said culture minister John Whittingdale yesterday after the Government announced it would launch a consultation into the privatisation of the network.
The ex-culture secretary said it is ‘sensible to look at alternative ownership models’ and did not ‘by any means rule out’ the public service broadcaster being acquired by a streaming giant.
Meanwhile, Channel 4 presenter Kirstie Allsopp, who co-hosts Location, Location, Location, has railed against the sell-off plan, saying the network ‘does not take a penny off the Government’.
Supporters of Channel 4 have suggested that the sale comes after repeated attacks from senior Tories who consider their output left-wing, and suggest the process is politically-motivated to stifle a critical voice of the Government.
Channel 4 has also been criticised by Conservatives who complain that some of its output is biased against the Tories, leading to suspicions that there is a political motivation behind the Government’s move.
John Whittingdale said he did not ‘by any means rule out’ Channel 4 being acquired by a streaming giant (left: Elisabeth Moss playing June in C4’s The Handmaid’s Tale and right: Jennifer Metcalfe as Mercedes McQueen in Hollyoaks, which is also aired on the network)
Channel 4 presenter Kirstie Allsopp (above), who co-hosts Location, Location, Location, has railed against the sell-off plan, saying the network ‘does not take a penny off the Government’
Mr Whittingdale told Times Radio: ‘What we’ve said is that we think that it is sensible to look at alternative ownership models, in order to make sure that Channel 4 is still able to invest in programme content, to compete with these other services.
‘In terms of who might potentially be interested, that’s the purpose of having a government consultation. We don’t rule out anyone.
‘There would be competition issues if a very strongly established broadcaster wanted to merge, and that’s something which automatically is a matter of competition, but I don’t by any means rule out existing streaming services or indeed anybody else. We’ll wait and see what happens.’
He added that the Government was concerned over the network’s business model coming under intensifying pressure due to its reliance on advertising.
However, Ms Allsopp tweeted: ‘@Channel4 does not take a penny off the Government, but it is a public service broadcaster.
‘Someone said “we don’t need 2 public service broadcasters” I agree, we need 3, the more TV that is for the public the better. Innovative, brave, compassionate broadcasting is what we do.’
In a separate tweet posted on Wednesday evening, she wrote: ‘Did a couple of interviews today making the case against privatising @Channel4.
‘I was amazed by the kindness of other broadcasters and their belief in C4. Margaret Thatcher set it up to do a job, it does it brilliantly. No true @Conservatives would raise a hand to harm Channel 4.’
Mr Whittingdale, above, added that the Government was concerned over the network’s business model coming under intensifying pressure due to its reliance on advertising
Ms Allsopp’s tweets, pictured above. Sir David Attenborough has also called for an end to ‘short-sighted political and financial attacks’ on public service broadcasters as ministers begin moves towards privatising the network
How Channel 4 was set up in 1982 by Mrs Thatcher and is 100% owned by the taxpayer
Channel 4 launched in 1982, to provide a fourth television service to Britain, alongside BBC1, BBC2 and ITV. It has been funded by advertising and sponsorship deals since the outset.
It made its debut with an episode of Countdown, presented by Carol Vorderman and Richard Whiteley and has become known for its left-leaning coverage, programming for young people and ‘property porn’ shows such as Grand Designs and Location, Location, Location.
It is also home of the Great British Bake Off and known for its groundbreaking drama, most recently: It’s A Sin.
Channel 4 is commercially funded. It raised revenues of £985million in 2019, but a pre-tax loss of £26million.
The process will be overseen by Media Minister John Whittingdale, who advocated privatisation of Channel 4 as long ago as 1996.
Selling Channel 4 could be seen as something of an easy win for the Government, as it seeks to find new savings.
The taxpayer has a 100 per cent shareholding in Channel 4 but relatively few viewers are even aware that it is state-owned.
It follows the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) saying in a statement that moving Channel 4 into private ownership and changing its remit could ensure its ‘future success and sustainability’.
The DCMS will consider whether new rules around impartiality and accuracy are needed for documentaries and news content on the platforms to ‘level the playing field’ with broadcasters, who are regulated by the watchdog Ofcom.
Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said: ‘Technology has transformed broadcasting but the rules protecting viewers and helping our traditional channels compete are from an analogue age.
‘The time has come to look at how we can unleash the potential of our public service broadcasters while also making sure viewers and listeners consuming content on new formats are served by a fair and well-functioning system.
‘So we’ll now be looking at how we can help make sure Channel 4 keeps its place at the heart of British broadcasting and level the playing field between broadcasters and video-on-demand services.’
But Sir David Attenborough has called for an end to ‘short-sighted political and financial attacks’ on public service broadcasters as ministers begin moves towards privatising the network.
The 95-year-old presenter has given his backing to a campaign group which has warned that ministers should not try to ‘diminish’ these broadcasters.
Sir David’s name has been added to a group of public figures that have backed an open letter sent to Mr Dowden.
Other names understood to have signed include Sir Lenny Henry, Sir Salman Rushdie, Lord Mandelson and actor Adrian Lester.
The group, called British Broadcasting Challenge, argue in the letter that ‘public service principles’ are ‘under severe threat’ not just from streaming services and big tech companies but also from the Government.
Channel 4, launched in 1982, is a Government-owned but commercially funded public service broadcaster, with a remit to broadcast ‘diverse, alternative and challenging programming that appeals to a younger audience’.
Channel 4, launched in 1982, is a Government-owned but commercially funded public service broadcaster (pictured: people walking past the TV channel’s offices in London on June 23)