Culture minister claims broadcaster’s obligations will not be weakened to drive up value

Krishnan and John Whittingdale

John Whittingdale has revealed that Channel 4 could face “different types of obligations” under a private owner but its remit will not be weakened in order to drive up its value.

Speaking to Channel 4 News anchor Krishnan Guru-Murthy yesterday (23 June), the culture minister said the government is justified in assessing whether its remit remains fit-for-purpose.

“The purpose of C4 has been to provide alternative viewpoints and diversity of content, and also to support the creative industries across the UK,” he said. “It has been hugely successful at doing that and we want to do make sure that it can continue in the longer term.”

He added that the ownership of the broadcaster is “an entirely separate matter” to the government-imposed obligations it faces. “C4 has a very good reputation for providing different content and appealing to different audiences and I don’t think anybody would want to abandon that,” he said.

In response to Guru-Murthy asking whether C4’s obligation to provide an hour of news in prime time a day could change if privatisation goes ahead, Whittingdale said: “I have no preconception that would change.”

“I value C4 News…and I would not like to see a reduction in C4’s news content,” he said. “In a climate in which there is too much misinformation and fake news, trusted news providers are increasingly important, and we want to sustain that.”

He reiterated claims that a private owner could invest more heavily in programming on the channel and said that he would be keen for its out-of-London commissioning strategy to continue.

In 2019 the broadcaster spent £141m on shows from the nations and regions, with 47% of the spend on its main channel originations coming from outside the capital.

“C4 has gone beyond what it is required to do and that is the kind of element of the remit which we will look at,” he said. “I’d be very keen to make sure that C4 continues to invest in content and represent voices from right across the UK.”

Whittingdale poured cold water on the suggestion that he has a longheld ambition to sell the broadcaster. “I like C4 – it has served the purpose it was created to do brilliantly. It is diverse and C4 News provides an alternative viewpoint which we don’t want to undermine. I strongly believe in plurality of voices,” he said.

“[But] it’s worth asking the question why we need two publicly-owned broadcasters. I look at the success of privatisation in other areas and there is no particular reason why C4 has to remain in public ownership.”