Channel 4: Privatisation — [Mr Nigel Evans in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 9:32 am on 21st July 2021.

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Photo of Angela Eagle Angela Eagle Labour, Wallasey 9:32 am, 21st July 2021

I look forward to the right hon. Gentleman being one of, I hope, more than 40 Conservative MPs who appear in the Lobby to vote against any such privatisation proposals. If he can raise that number, I hope to be in the Lobby with him.

It is certainly the case, though, that “Channel 4 News” has refused to be cowed by the Government’s none-too-subtle attempts to intimidate it. Those manifested themselves most notoriously during the 2019 general election when—this may be the real reason that we are seeing what we are—the Prime Minister was replaced by a melting ice sculpture in the Channel 4 leaders’ debate on climate change, which he had characteristically shirked. Following that incident, an unnamed Tory source briefed that Channel 4 would be privatised as punishment for lampooning the prime ministerial no-show. A complaint was made to Ofcom, but it was subsequently thrown out.

To silence such dissent in the future, the Government have decided that Channel 4 will be privatised, and Ofcom taken over by new, hard-line appointees. The BBC has already been cowed. Our national discourse is being drained of different voices as a deliberate act of political ideology. That reminds me more of the authoritarian events going on in Hungary than of something I ever expected to witness in the UK.

I hope the Government will step back from the brink that they have moved towards. For Channel 4, privatisation will be irreversible—an act of vandalism that does irreparable damage to a model that has worked well and provided a unique source of innovation and support, nurturing a vibrant independent production industry that should be the pride of our country. Already, the big beasts—Disney, Netflix, Discovery, Google and Amazon—are beginning to circle, and the Minister for Media and Data is spending his time facilitating the interests of those corporate big beasts by hinting that in-house production will be allowed following privatisation and that Channel 4’s “edgy” remit will be changed.

So there we have it: a sale that threatens to destroy in one fell swoop the independent production industry that Channel 4’s remit and inability to produce in-house have fostered in the UK for the past 40 years. That is deliberate vandalism of all that is unique and successful about Channel 4. If privatisation happens, the bland dullness of US corporate regurgitation may well await us all.

That may serve the immediate interests of what some in the Conservative party believe, but it does not serve the interests of the country. How does the Minister think that it is in the country’s cultural interests to destroy Channel 4? Will his Department prepare and publish an impact assessment of its privatisation plans? How do the Government intend to change the remit of Channel 4 to facilitate a sale? How will privatisation protect innovative and experimental programming that comes from diverse and often unheard voices?

Ministers have also announced that the current ban on in-house production could end with privatisation. That would put the UK’s thriving independent production sector and the 10,000 jobs that it supports directly at risk. How will the Government protect the sector? Finally, how will flogging off Channel 4, possibly to one of the corporate digital giants, preserve the UK’s unique voice in the age of bland corporate entertainment?

I look forward to hearing the Minister’s detailed answers.