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Rishi Sunak vows to proceed with Channel 4 privatisation if he becomes PM

A spokeswoman for the Tory leadership hopeful said ‘standing still is not an option’.

22 July 2022

Rishi Sunak will proceed with the sale of Channel 4 if he succeeds Boris Johnson as prime minister – saying privatisation would help the broadcaster compete with streaming giants.

The former chancellor is locked in a leadership race with Liz Truss to become the next Conservative Party leader and PM.

Plans to take Channel 4 out of public ownership, announced earlier this year, have been criticised by the creative industry and politicians.

The Government said the broadcaster will struggle to survive in a media landscape increasingly dominated by the likes of Netflix and has been overly reliant on declining TV advertising to support its business.

Channel 4 privatisation
A protester wearing a mask of former prime minister Margaret Thatcher outside the Channel 4 London headquarters (Ian West/PA)

A campaign spokeswoman for Mr Sunak said: “Rishi will take forward Channel 4’s privatisation.

“Channel 4 is a crucial part of British broadcasting and supports our brilliant creative industries, but a lot has changed since the 1980s when it was set up to provide viewers with more choice.

“Privatisation will help Channel 4 to thrive in an age where they are also competing with Netflix, Amazon, Apple and many more.

“Standing still is not an option.”

Philippa Childs, head of broadcasting union Bectu, described the announcement as “incredibly disappointing” and said it suggests Mr Sunak “does not understand why the Channel 4 model is so successful and why there is such unified and vehement industry opposition to the sale”.

She said: “Channel 4 is a hugely successful public service broadcaster, consistently pushing the boundaries of entertainment and thought-provoking content for British audiences.

“This success is built on the back of the current model, which supports a thriving independent production sector and allows commissioners a degree of risk and creativity, of which the viewing public reap the benefits.

“Make no mistake – privatisation which will have major consequences for the UK broadcasting landscape, for the jobs of UK freelancers and for the UK’s creative economy.”

She added: “Channel 4 costs the UK taxpayer precisely nothing, yet gives us a thriving independent production sector, thousands of jobs and world-renowned, innovative content.

“Once again we see that this Government seems determined to deal in ideology rather than fact when it comes to our world-renowned cultural assets. We will continue to fiercely oppose this destructive move.”

Channel 4 was founded in 1982 by the Conservative government of Margaret Thatcher and is entirely funded by advertising.

It is a “publisher-broadcaster”, buying its programming from independent production companies.

It was the first in the UK to do so on a large scale.

Conservative leadership bid
Foreign Secretary and Tory leadership candidate, Liz Truss (PA)

Channel 4’s sale has been backed by Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries, who is supporting Ms Truss in the Conservative leadership contest.

Ms Dorries previously said the decision is about “saving” the broadcaster.

Last week, Channel 4 published its annual report showing its strongest ever financial performance, with revenues topping £1 billion for the first time and a record-breaking tax surplus of £101 million.

In April, the Government’s White Paper offered a first look at proposed plans for Channel 4, saying under public ownership the broadcaster has limited ability to borrow or raise capital by issuing shares.

It said the channel’s set-up “effectively stops it from making its own content”.

A month later, the broadcaster laid out its alternative plan to privatisation, with proposals including “levelling up” so it becomes more “northern-based”, with the majority of the workforce based outside London.

Ms Truss’ campaign spokesman has been approached for comment.

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