Channel 4 executives warn of privatisation risks

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image sourceChannel 4
image captionOther broadcasters turned down hit drama It's A Sin, Channel 4 said

Channel 4's bosses have warned there could be "a real risk" to some of its programmes if it is privatised.

The government is considering whether to privatise the channel, which is now funded by ads but publicly-owned.

Channel 4 CEO Alex Mahon said: "We need to make sure that the media landscape is strengthened, not worsened, by any changes to the channel."

The government is expected to announce a consultation into the privatisation of Channel 4 shortly.

Unveiling Channel 4's annual report on Tuesday, executives trumpeted the success of shows like The Great British Bake Off, It's A Sin and Grayson's Art Club as well as a better than expected £74m surplus despite the pandemic.

A privately-owned Channel 4 may prioritise profit over public service, its bosses warned.

image sourceChannel 4
image captionChannel 4 said We Are Lady Parts was an example of representation that isn't seen elsewhere

Programming director Ian Katz cited "the level of depth" of the news as one part of the schedule that may come under pressure, as well as programmes featuring underrepresented voices.

He also pointed to shows like Sandi Toksvig's The Write Offs, about adult literacy; We Are Lady Parts, a sitcom about a female Muslim punk band; and Steph's Packed Lunch, which gives "investment in proper regional representation live in the schedule every day".

"And you just need to think about some of the scripted television that we made recently," he said.

"It's A Sin is a brilliant example because it is a show that was turned down by every broadcaster before we made it. It quite simply would not have been made if we hadn't been there, and I think there are quite a few shows in our schedule of that ilk."

He added: "Those are all shows that emerge because everyone on the channel is imbued with the public service ethos, and that's the kind of television that they're trying to make every day, and I think there's a real risk if you lose that, that you lose a lot of that kind of programming."

image sourcePA Media

Mahon told journalists: "We've always got to be careful of doing anything that might be irreversible that could possibly damage some of those things that we do for the sector and that we do for the UK."

She pointed to Channel 4's decision to move hundreds of staff to Leeds, Glasgow and Bristol, revealing that Channel 4 News will be co-hosted from Leeds from 6 September.

"Starting to have the news hosted multiple nights a week from outside of London - co-hosted - is a big difference," she said.

"No other national broadcaster is doing that. That has been a massive piece of our agenda and I think we want that to continue. You might question whether it would under different structures."

Channel 4 chairman Charles Gurassa said "big American conglomerates" would be among the potential buyers if the broadcaster was privatised.

'Appropriate ownership model'

Last month, Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden told MPs that a committee was looking at Channel 4's future to consider "the best way that it can be sustained going into the future, and does that necessarily mean that it continues to be publicly owned?"

He explained: "The scale and pace of the evolution of the broadcasting market continues apace and it is important, when we look across the broadcasting landscape, that we consider the appropriate ownership model for Channel 4."

On Tuesday, SNP MP John Nicolson told a House of Commons committee the formal consultation into the possible privatisation would be confirmed on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, Katz also said the programming budgets had bounced back after being cut at the start of the Covid pandemic.

"Drama spend this year is already substantially up on last year and will be significantly up again next year," he said.

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