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

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:21 am on 21st July 2021.

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Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health) 10:21 am, 21st July 2021

I appreciate the opportunity to speak on this matter. I thank Dame Angela Eagle for leading this debate on the privatisation of Channel 4.

Channel 4 has been around for many years and has provided many years of entertainment to the British public. It was introduced in 1982 under Thatcher’s Government, and was set to lead as the second largest commercial broadcaster in the UK. It followed ITV, after its birth in ’54.

Television and visual entertainment have proven incredibly necessary throughout the covid-19 pandemic. They have become a much-valued tool for many people, and we were most definitely thankful for them during lockdown.

Recent statistics show that 16% to 17% of Channel 4 viewers are aged 16 to 34, showing that there is a keen interest in Channel 4 shows, particularly among the younger generation. Interestingly, recent figures show that the quarterly reach of Channel 4 television in the United Kingdom is now some 51.1 million viewers, highlighting that there is still a call for the channel itself.

In recent years, large television broadcasters have proven dominant in the TV industry. Others have referred to Netflix, iPlayer, BritBox and so on. As a traditionalist, I usually watch the channels in front of me. I just about control the handset for switching channels. Fewer people are watching channels such as the BBC and Channel 4. I wonder why that is. We all watch television programmes that we are interested in. I have to admit that there are few programmes that I would be inclined to watch on Channel 4, and in all honesty there are certain things that I take exception to, but I do watch it for the films and the news, because they are both good. It provides an opportunity to follow those.

However, I would like to praise Channel 4 for the work it does with Stand Up to Cancer and charity TV programmes. There are many things that it should be commended for—not forgetting, of course, “The Great British Bake Off”, which is a household favourite, not because I can cook or bake but because I like to watch those who can.

I would not be against the privatisation of any channel if it meant that there were programmes available to cover interests for a range of people, regardless of age or political beliefs. Some of my constituents have been in touch with me ahead of this debate and have expressed the same concern: that there is simply not much that they would choose to watch. We have to have a channel that gives variety and opportunity, and that people are inclined to watch.

One brilliant factor is that Channel 4 runs solely on commercial, self-organised funds. An issue that has come to light, perhaps for older members of the public, is the payment to have no advertisements for Channel 4 on-demand. Many will inquire whether those fees would still be incurred after privatisation, so any change could well mean a change in the cost for those who view the programmes they wish to watch on Channel 4. On the other hand, many would argue that Channel 4 could become a for-profit company, with the programme quality drastically decreasing. That is a concern that I have and that others have also expressed. We also have to consider whether the producers of programmes would be comfortable airing their shows via private means.

I thank Channel 4 for all the entertainment that it has provided for us. It should be credited for offering a free channel that we in the UK are able to take advantage of to watch the programmes that we desire to watch. However, I also feel that, if a service is national and available to all, its content should also be suited to all. That is something that I would like to see. When it can be argued that some of the programmes are inaccessible for some sections of the community, a call for reform or change is required.

There is certainly scope for the channel to remain. The figures show that Channel 4’s share of viewing among black and minority ethnic audiences has grown by 3% over 2020, which is good news, and that its 16-34 linear viewing share in all time has grown by 9% on 2019—more than any other terrestrial channel. However, when this does not cover the national population, there are suggestions that privatisation could improve viewing demographics. I urge the Government to keep that in mind and put our constituents’ views at the forefront of decision making.