Sale of Channel 4 sparks jobs scare in Leeds as Tory government moves to privatize broadcaster

An MP has warned that the Government’s plan to sell Channel 4 could ‘cost jobs’ in Yorkshire, less than a year after the public broadcaster moved its headquarters to Leeds.

Channel 4 is to be privatized by the Conservative government after 40 years of public ownership.

Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries tweeted on Monday that ministers were pursuing the sale of the channel to private owners.

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She tweeted: “Channel 4 rightly holds a special place in British life and I want it to remain so. I have come to the conclusion that government ownership prevents Channel 4 from competing with streaming giants like Netflix and Amazon.

“A change in ownership will give Channel 4 the tools and the freedom to grow and prosper as a public service broadcaster for the long term. I will outline Channel 4’s future plan in a white paper in due course.

“I will seek to reinvest proceeds from the sale into leveling up the creative sector, putting money into independent production and creative skills in priority regions of the country – delivering a creative dividend for all.”

As the Mirror reports, last summer Sir David Attenborough backed a letter warning ministers “to stop short-sighted political and financial attacks” on public service broadcasters.

The 95-year-old came hours before ministers were to launch a review of the future of Channel 4 – home to Great British Bake Off, Gogglebox and Countdown.

This review warned “it’s 2021, not 1982 – and the streaming landscape has changed beyond recognition”, with increased competition from services like Netflix.

Now, after the review, ministers have decided government ownership is ‘holding back’ Channel 4 and it will be sold to a private bidder – despite the company’s strong performance.

The move will be contained in a Media Bill in the Queen’s Speech on May 10, alongside other reforms to public service broadcasting that have yet to be announced.

Channel 4 is publicly owned and non-profit, but receives no taxpayers’ money, but is entirely funded by its commercial activity.

Channel 4 is sold

Yet Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries, who is set to push through the sale, falsely claimed in November that she was “receiving public money”.

The Channel 4 announcement came hours after the Treasury asked Royal Mint to create a “non-fungible token” (NFT), as families struggle with the worst drop in income since the 1950s.

Shadow Culture Secretary Lucy Powell fumed: ‘Nothing screams of a rudderless, disconnected government like the announcements on Channel 4 and NFT as people’s energy bills soar and the cost of living skyrockets.

“Selling Channel 4, which doesn’t cost the taxpayer a dime anyway, to what is likely to be a foreign company, makes absolutely no sense.

Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, Nadine Dorries
Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, Nadine Dorries

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

“Coming straight after the government shelved many of its plans for new legislation, it shows the Tories are out of ideas, out of the way and have no interest in leveling up.

But a Channel 4 spokesperson said it was ‘disappointing’ that the decision had been taken ‘without formally acknowledging the significant public interest concerns which have been raised’.

The statement adds: “Channel 4 remains legally committed to its unique public service mission. The organization will focus on how we can ensure we deliver the mandate both to our viewers and to the UK creative economy across the UK.

“The proposal to privatize Channel 4 will require a lengthy legislative process and political debate.

“We will of course continue to engage with DCMS, the Government and Parliament, and do all we can to ensure Channel 4 continues to play its unique role in Britain’s creative ecology and national life.”

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Edward L. Robinett