Is Channel 4 a victim of Tory spite?

The institution is ‘a great British success story’ – so why sell it?

Channel 4 London headquarters
(Image credit: Luke MacGregor/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Forty years after it was launched by Margaret Thatcher’s government, Channel 4 is being put up for sale, said Steven Barnett on The Conversation. The decision to press ahead with legislation this year, announced by Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries, is a risky one which has been widely condemned as an act of “cultural vandalism”. Channel 4 is, after all, “a great British success story”.

A stateowned channel that doesn’t employ its own creative staff, it commissions programmes from independent production companies – a flourishing sector that it has played a vital role in creating. It supports more than 10,000 jobs, all over the UK; it is required by law to promote diversity, innovation and new talent. It doesn’t cost the taxpayer a penny. And it makes a profit, too – a “record” £74m in 2020, all of which was ploughed back into programmes. So why sell it? Dorries says putting it in private hands will encourage innovation and allow it to “compete more effectively” with streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime.

That makes no sense at all, said Ayesha Hazarika in the London Evening Standard. Channel 4 already has a “huge streaming service”, All4, and makes globally successful shows from Gogglebox and Come Dine With Me to dramas such as It’s a Sin and comedies including Derry Girls. It’s edgy and irreverent, but the channel also has a strong news and educational remit, which could be lost if it becomes “Netflix-lite”.

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The only convincing explanation for the privatisation is that it is driven by senior Tories’ “visceral hatred” of Channel 4 News. The Conservative MP Julian Knight, chairman of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, suggested that it was “revenge” for the news show’s “biased” coverage of Brexit and its “personal attacks” on the PM (whom it replaced with a block of ice when he failed to show up for a climate change debate). How ridiculous, to wreck one of Thatcher’s greatest cultural achievements out of sheer spite.

The idea that Thatcher would oppose Channel 4’s privatisation is “ludicrous”, said Andrew Roberts in The Daily Telegraph: she would be “cheering on” Dorries’ plans. Back in 1982, there were only three TV channels, and Thatcher wanted “a genuine diversity of views” broadcast, something that Channel 4 once did. Now there are 333 channels and it has become a “virulently anti-Tory, crypto-Corbynite propaganda outlet, parroting the views of London’s metropolitan establishment”. Thatcher would be embarrassed by the Frankenstein’s monster she had created, and would want it exposed to “the cold winds of competition, albeit around 20 years too late”

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