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Channel 4

Part of Backbench Business – in Westminster Hall at 11:00 am on 19th July 2016.

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Photo of Graham Jones Graham Jones Labour, Hyndburn 11:00 am, 19th July 2016

I beg to move,

That this House
has considered the future of Channel 4.

It is a pleasure to introduce this debate under your chairmanship, Mr Stringer; I believe it is my first debate with you in the Chair. This is clearly an important issue. In the post-Brexit politics we are in, a number of issues are not being given the merit they deserve, and one of those is Channel 4, which, like many of our public services, is under attack by the current Government. I feel that we ought to have debates on our public assets and services, and today is an opportunity to have one.

I have initiated this debate on the future of one particular public service that I cherish—Channel 4. It is a public service that is the cornerstone of Britain’s world-renowned broadcasting ecology, but one that the previous Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, Mr Whittingdale, was hellbent on privatising during his time in office. We need to test the Minister on whether he is going to continue along the path followed by the previous Culture Secretary in respect of Channel 4. Although we have since had the reshuffle, in which the right hon. Gentleman was removed from that position, no doubt due to his unpopular desire to wield the royal charter review against the BBC, we cannot be complacent about preventing his ambitions from being realised.

We have good cause. A recent freedom of information request, seen by the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport, revealed that the new Culture Minister met the previous Culture Secretary in secret to discuss Channel 4 reform options last September. It is important to put that on the record because we need to know where we are going. This is not a fresh start; there have obviously been conversations in the past and I think Parliament ought to be told what those conversations were about. It is for that reason that I called for this short debate on Channel 4’s future before the House adjourns for recess. I am sorry that it is in the first week of the Minister’s new duties; I congratulate him on getting the job but, for the reasons I have outlined, it is important that we have this conversation before we go into summer recess. I look forward to his comments, particularly on his conversations with the former Culture Secretary, and perhaps we can begin a debate about the future of Channel 4.

To begin with, what is Channel 4 and how does it fit into the UK’s broadcasting ecology? Channel 4’s statutory remit requires it to deliver high quality, innovative and alternative content, and throughout its history it has been incredibly successful in fulfilling that. Its glittering record of airing fantastic programmes has provided the channel with a consistent viewing share of 11% over some 30 years.