Standing still not an option for Channel 4, Culture Secretary warns

Oliver Dowden is expected to make the comments in a speech at the Royal Television Society Convention.

Channel 4 Privatisation
Channel 4 Privatisation

Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden will warn that “standing still is not an option” for Channel 4 following a Government consultation into the privatisation of the broadcaster.

In a speech to the Royal Television Society Convention on Wednesday, Mr Dowden is expected to outline how the channel could continue to thrive even if it is sold.

The Government has been consulting on plans to privatise the channel, which could be sold off to a private buyer.

Cabinet Meeting
Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden (Victoria Jones/PA)

At present, the channel, which was founded in 1982, is owned by the Government and receives its funding from advertising.

In his speech, Mr Dowden will say Channel 4 is “one of this country’s greatest assets”.

“One clear way of making sure our British broadcasters thrive is putting them in the right financial position to compete and succeed for decades to come – no matter what the future of broadcasting holds.

“Right now, Channel 4 is in a stable position. But I think too many people are fixated on Channel 4’s current situation. I’m much more concerned with its long-term future.

“I believe that if Channel 4 wants to grow then at some point soon it will need cash. Without it, Channel 4 won’t have the money to invest in technology and programming, and it won’t be able to compete with the streaming giants.”

He will say the money can either be raised “on the back of the taxpayer or it can come from private investment”.

The Government can “unlock that much-needed investment” and “can do so while protecting the parts of Channel 4 that none of us want to lose”, he will add.

The consultation into the ownership of Channel 4 closed on Tuesday.

Mr Dowden also praised Channel 4’s coverage of the Paralympics and its broadcast of Emma Raducanu’s US Open victory for providing “national moments”.

“A Channel 4 with a protected remit and deeper pockets could bring us many, many more in the future,” he will add.

Channel 4 new HQ
(Victoria Jones/PA)

“If people disagree, then this is my challenge to them: please tell me how they’d intend to protect Channel 4 and the wider creative industries in a fairer, more sustainable way.

“Because standing still is not an option. In fact, it would be an act of self-harm.”

On Tuesday Channel 4 warned there is “no evidence” privatisation will benefit UK audiences or the economy and may instead “cause them harm”.

In a statement, Channel 4 said: “Having considered all the available analysis extremely carefully, we have concluded there is no evidence that the irreversible transfer of Channel 4 from the British public into private commercial hands will be of benefit to either British audiences of the UK economy, and may indeed cause them harm.”

The channel said “the evidence suggests that continued public ownership of Channel 4 would create the right conditions not only to overcome the audience and competitive challenges the Government has rightly identified, but also to ensure that public service broadcasting in the UK continues to thrive”.

It also raised concerns that moving Channel 4 into private ownership could result in “reduced diversity and quality of content for UK viewers”.

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