Tom Tugendhat & Karen Bradley among six Conservatives to issue warning to Boris Johnson

Horseferry Road C4 2

A group of high-profile Tories including Tom Tugendhat have urged Boris Johnson urging to drop any privatisation plans for Channel 4, calling such a move “contrary” to the government’s levelling up agenda.

In a letter to the prime minister, the group of six MPs – including foreign affairs select committee Tom Tugendhat, former DCMSC member Damian Green and former culture secretary Karen Bradley – stated that there is “no urgent need” for the broadcaster’s ownership structure to be changed, as it is “self-sufficient and successful, making no drain on the public purse”.

The MPs, which also include C4 all-party parliamentary group vice chair Andy Carter, Stephen Hammond and Simon Fell, emphasised the importance of the PSB in the British broadcasting ecosystem and the support it provides to indies, as well as the “unique” support it offers regional SMEs.

It is an “engine” in the growth of small indies outside the M25, offering a platform to regional businesses that the government should be nurturing and growing, they added.

“The channel’s support for these companies through its commissioning targets already goes far further than is required, and further than any other public service broadcaster,” the letter stated.

“Channel 4’s current ownership structure ensures more [regional voices] will be heard. In doing this, it plays a crucial role in supporting British businesses in one of the UK’s most internationally successful and iconic industries. To put it simply: Channel 4 isn’t broke and doesn’t need fixing.”

The MPs noted that a sale to a private buyer would enable some productions to be made in-house, bringing greater economies of scale and retained intellectual property, but with “adverse consequences” on the production sector.

Though the government has suggested that certain conditions might be placed on a sale of Channel 4, for example commissioning a certain amount of programmes from indies, continued commitment to levelling up through regional commissioning and retaining its Leeds HQ, the MPs highlighted that these are all things the broadcaster is already doing and which its commercial and PSB competitors “do not do, or do not do to the same extent”.

“An easier solution exists: leave it alone,” they stated.

Channel 4 was established under Margaret Thatcher’s government in 1982 to “act as an incubator for independent, risk-taking, innovative private sector companies” and is funded through advertising. A sale of the channel would fly in the face of Thatcher’s vision for the British broadcasting landscape, the ministers added.

In response to the letter, a DCMS spokesperson told The Observer: “We value Channel 4’s contribution to levelling up and are clear its public service broadcasting remit and our commitment to independent regional productions would continue following any potential sale.

“There is a wealth of evidence on the challenges for linear TV broadcasters, and it is right we consider a change in ownership to support Channel 4’s long-term sustainability. This could allow more and quicker investment in creative content and platforms to support the wider creative industries.”

The potential sale of C4 was brought up last summer under then culture secretary Oliver Dowden, while his successor Nadine Dorries said in November that there was still no decision made on the sale of the broadcaster.

A white paper setting out the government’s stance on a potential sale in ownership was initially expected to be published last autumn but has been delayed, with no updated publication date yet given.

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