Thankyou for challenging the Government on Channel 4

On Tuesday Lucy Powell, the Labour Shadow Secretary for DCMS raised a call to challenge the Government over their incompetent approach to try to sell Channel 4. Sadly many Conservatives are very happy to support Nadine Dorries despite her ignorance. Thankfully there was at least one very credible Conservative MP who is based in Sussex who was willing to challenge the Government on this theme. His name is Peter Bottomley and he is the West Worthing MP. So far the petition which can be obtained here has only reached 5,440 signatures. I hope that we can add to it significantly over the next few weeks. We already have a reasonable proportion in Sussex but of course they are not huge number of signatures. It is a petition that states

Stop the privatisation of Channel 4

The Government have announced they intend to push ahead with the privatisation of Channel 4, and this will be included in May’s Queen’s Speech. This plan must be abandoned and Channel 4 kept in public hands.

By becoming privatised this risks commercial decisions determining what is commissioned. Channel 4 currently has the freedom to produce shows that are culturally balanced, hard hitting and informative – programmes that may not be commercially successful with the advertisers but important to produce nonetheless. Privatising the channel risks subjecting it to the whims of advertisers – producing shows based on if they can make a profit rather than doing it for an informative purpose.

The comments from all of the MPs can be obtained from here and the three comments from Peter Bottomley are significant. The second and third ones are short. The second is his comment and the rather inadequate answer from another Conservative called Ben Everitt who seems to assume that Channel 4 will require funding when in fact they have been very clear that they won’t.

Bottomley: I have been listening to my hon. Friend with interest. How is Channel 4’s future brighter when it stands by itself if it is sold to a competitor? What is the gain?

Everitt: I welcome the intervention. The gain is that the risk is not with the taxpayer; Channel 4 would be unburdening the taxpayer from the risk of future borrowing. Channel 4 does have a bright future. It is a successful broadcaster in its own right, and it can stand on its own feet, but the risk of borrowing against the taxpayer is not something that the Government want to get into. Ultimately, for Channel 4 to flourish, the Government must step out of the way.

The third comment is directed to the Government Minister Julia Lopez who works for Nadine Darries. Her response is as disturbing as Everitt’s.

Bottomley: Are those the most recent figures that the Department has? Many of us have been asking Channel 4 what its revenues were in the year that finished last year, and the growth in its digital advertising might also be something that the Minister would like to share with the House.

Lopez: We would be very keen to get more information on Channel 4’s business at the moment, as it has been rather difficult to extract.

The first comment from Peter is very long and so I am only including the first few paragraphs.

I ask the Government: when was the last time Channel 4 used public money for programmes? When did it last ask to have its borrowing limit lifted? It has not. I ask the Secretary of State whether she could have put in what she said. How much has Channel 4’s income from digital advertising increased in the last year and how much does Channel 4 expect it to rise in the next four years? We know that subscription on demand has grown and that broadcasting on demand has grown, mainly through Channel 4, but others can do the same, and we expect growth in advertising on video on demand. What we do not need to do is to throw away one of our best linear broadcasters which is also good at digital transformation.

Nothing has been said by Government, or even Government supporters, that suggests that Channel 4 would do better in other hands. The only conceivable ownership that would keep it going the way it is now is if it were given to the independent production companies to own as a mutual, and kept the broadcaster role and the rights on secondary broadcasting. That is a zero-sum game. Either the income stays with the producers or it goes to the broadcaster—it cannot go to both. If the Government think it would help the producers to take away that secondary income, they are just saying, “We are going to take it from one pocket and put it in another.” No argument has been put forward for that.

I hope we can persuade more people to sign the petition. I would suggest that it has support from the view of Peter Bottomley and indeed many other MPs, albeit mostly from Labour and SNP and some of the other smaller party’s.

About ianchisnall

I am passionate about the need for public policies to be made accessible to everyone, especially those who want to improve the wellbeing of their communities. I am particularly interested in issues related to crime and policing as well as health services and strategic planning.
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