One thing I learned early in my career running a media business is the value of taking risks, the need for platform commissioners to try different, find new talent and be experimental with subject matter. That is what gives creative businesses their edge. It is imperative that we regularly review the broadcasting landscape; technology is changing at great pace. It is also important to recognise that no business can exist in aspic. To suggest that nothing should ever change at Channel 4 would frankly be ridiculous, particularly given the significant shifts that we have seen on a global basis, the rise of platforms and the arrival of media organisations, such as Amazon and Netflix, in the past decade.
However, it is easy to overlook the unique nature of Channel 4, which has massive benefits to UK plc. I want to stress that my comments are not particularly related to the popular programmes seen on Channel 4, such as “Gogglebox” or “The Great British Bake Off”, which I am sure would find a place on any mainstream broadcast channel. We are fortunate in the UK to have a public service broadcasting ethos that runs through the core of our broadcasting networks. I strongly support Channel 4’s continued work in that area, even when sometimes I do not agree with the tone or the approach the channel takes. It is important that we have plurality of voices and ideas. The space and time Channel 4 gives to new, different and sometimes challenging content, from emerging producers across the UK, is what makes Channel 4 particularly valuable among the wide range of publishers that are available today.
Channel 4’s unique design in the 1980s, under a Conservative Government, has turned Channel 4 into one of the most creative platforms on the planet. That has immense benefit to GB plc, and to thousands of small businesses in constituencies such as mine, up and down the country. Channel 4’s model as a content commissioner from external production companies means it does not make any of its own programmes and it therefore allows independent producers to retain intellectual property rights. It is IP that has real value. Channel 4 provides that seed funding for production companies, funnelling money generated from advertising directly into the creative sector. That publisher-broadcaster model is unique among public service broadcasters. Having run a media business, I struggle to see how the idea of not owning IP would be compatible with a model that prioritised profit.
The Government consultation asked for views on removing the publisher-broadcaster element of Channel 4’s model. I worry that making that change will damage the super-creativity of the sector, forcing out new, untested content producers who, without the opportunity to produce something for Channel 4 to be broadcast—perhaps off-peak in the early hours of Sunday morning—would not get the break that would lead them to produce bigger and better content that might become a global hit, produced here in the UK.
I am keen to highlight the investment in British film. Channel 4 spends more on UK film than any other broadcaster based in this country. It is rather good at it too. Film4 has collectively won 37 academy awards and 84 BAFTAs. In 2021, “The Father” won best actor and screenplay at the Oscars.
I conclude by asking the Minster a couple of questions. How does he envisage the remit of Channel 4 changing were it to be privatised? I am experienced enough to know that many owners buy a media product and then their first port of call is Ofcom to ask for a licence change. How will the Minister ensure that that does not happen? What impact does he envisage on smaller independent production companies, were Channel 4 to be privatised, and how might he mitigate those changes?