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

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 9:59 am on 21st July 2021.

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Photo of Mick Whitley Mick Whitley Labour, Birkenhead 9:59 am, 21st July 2021

It is a pleasure to serve with you in the Chair, Ms Fovargue. I thank my hon. Friend Dame Angela Eagle for securing this important debate. As broadcasters including Sir David Attenborough have warned, the privatisation of Channel 4 would have disastrous and far-reaching consequences for the film and television sector. The UK’s creative industries are one of the fastest growing sectors of the economy, widely admired across the world. Channel 4 sits at the heart, with its distinct remit to reinvest profits into commissioning. All that would be jeopardised by privatisation.

The claim that the consultation now under way is a response to a changing broadcasting landscape is not believable. The Minister first advocated privatisation all the way back in 1996. His attempts to push through privatisation when he was Culture Secretary were frustrated only because David Cameron, the Prime Minister who sold off Royal Mail for a pittance, recognised the irreparable harm that would do to the wider cultural sector.

In fact, despite all the challenges posed by the rise of the streaming giants, Channel 4 continues to thrive, both critically and commercially. Last year, the channel recorded a record £74 million pre-tax surplus, while also bagging a prime-time Emmy for its coverage of the deteriorating situation in Hong Kong. Viewing figures for the terrestrial channels and All 4 continue to rise. The Minister is confecting a crisis where none is, in order to provide a flimsy pretext for privatisation.

The Minister should come clean about the Government’s motivations. This is not about money; it is about ideology. He wants Channel 4 to be consigned to the dustbin of history because it is simply too good at doing what it is supposed to do. For four decades it has been a leading provider of innovative content that resonates, not just with communities across Britain but across the globe. It is a showcase of what is possible when things are run in the interests of the public good and not for private profit. Since its inception, “Channel 4 News” has spoken truth to power and exposed injustices and corruption at home and abroad. That is something that this Government and this Prime Minister simply cannot stand.