Government to launch consultation on privatisation of Channel 4

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport also said it will also review the regulation of streaming services.

Channel 4
Channel 4

The Government is to launch a consultation into the privatisation of Channel 4.

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport announced the move on Wednesday after bosses at the broadcaster were quizzed on the issue by MPs on the previous day.

Moving Channel 4 into private ownership and changing its remit could ensure its “future success and sustainability”, the department said in a statement.

Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden
Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden (Yui Mok/PA)

The consultation will also review regulation of streaming services such as Netflix, Disney+ and Amazon Prime Video.

It 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.”

Alex Mahon giving evidence to MPs on Tuesday
Alex Mahon giving evidence to MPs on Tuesday (House of Commons/PA)

However Channel 4’s chief executive Alex Mahon said on Tuesday the broadcaster could have “different priorities” if it is privatised, and cautioned against doing anything “irreversible” which could “possibly damage some of those things that we do for the sector”.

She was speaking after the publication of Channel 4’s annual report, which showed it delivered a record financial surplus of £74 million at the end of 2020, as well as significant digital growth.

Channel 4 chair Charles Gurassa told the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee on Tuesday that “big American conglomerates” would be among the potential investors in Channel 4 if it was to be privatised.

Mr Dowden has previously confirmed that privatisation of Channel 4 was under examination in a review of public service broadcasting, however the consultation was not formally announced until Wednesday.

Channel 4 has been owned by the Government since its launch in 1982 and receives its funding from advertising.

The money generated is then used to commission independent producers to make programmes for the channel.

The consultation comes ahead of a Government White Paper on the future of broadcasting which is due in the autumn.

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