’Channel 4 isn’t broke, and doesn’t need fixing’

Dear Prime Minister,

Tom Tugendhat

Tom Tugendhat: among signatories

We wanted to make you aware of our concerns about the possible privatisation of Channel 4. A final decision has yet to be made on this, but the Government has made it clear that a change of ownership of Channel 4 is its preferred option. We disagree: a change of ownership is not only unnecessary but may actually be contrary to the goals of the levelling up agenda this Government was elected to implement. The case for change has not been made and the case for retaining Channel 4’s current ownership structure is clear.

In our view, there is no urgent need for Channel 4 to change its ownership structure. It is self-sufficient and successful, making no drain on the public purse. It also plays a vital role in the broadcasting ecosystem, not least in commissioning programmes from more independent production companies, and more small independent production companies, than any other public service broadcaster.

Channel 4’s support for regional SMEs is unique. 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. It is in many ways an engine of small production company growth outside the M25, giving a platform to regional businesses which we should be nurturing and growing. Regional voices have long struggled to break into the broadcasting landscape; Channel 4’s current ownership structure ensures more 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.

We are concerned at the potential adverse consequences of any sale, particularly on the independent TV and film production sector for whom Channel 4 as currently structured is such a crucial commissioner. Many small independents – around 15 per year – get their first commissions from Channel 4 before going on to become successful businesses. One of the attractions of Channel 4 to any potential buyer would be the ability to bring some TV production in-house and benefit from vertical integration, greater economies of scale and retained intellectual property. But all of this would come at a cost to our existing, successful independent sector, and to new entrants to that industry, in the form of fewer opportunities to have programmes commissioned by the channel that has been their greatest champion.

The Government does rightly recognise the unique contribution Channel 4 makes to our broadcasting and cultural sector. It has suggested that it may place certain conditions on the sale of Channel 4: on commissioning a certain amount of its programming from independents, on a commitment to levelling up through regional commissioning and retaining its new Leeds headquarters, and on demonstrating innovation and distinctive character in its programming. This is all well and good, but all of it relates to things which Channel 4 already does 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. 

Margaret Thatcher created Channel 4 as a publicly-owned, non-profit public sector broadcaster that would act as an incubator for independent, risk-taking, innovative private sector companies. She had a vision to level up the broadcasting landscape and she succeeded spectacularly well. We should maintain her legacy, not put it at risk.

Yours sincerely,

Mr Simon Fell MP, Barrow and Furness
Mr Andy Carter MP, Warrington South
The Rt Hon Karen Bradley MP, Staffordshire Moorlands
The Rt Hon Damian Green MP, Ashford
Mr Stephen Hammond MP, Wimbledon
Mr Thomas Tugendhat MP, Tonbridge and Malling

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