Channel 4 Privatization Canceled, U.K. Government Confirms

U.K. broadcaster Channel 4 will not be privatized, the U.K. government has confirmed.

Channel 4 will remain publicly owned, but with greater commercial flexibility, increased investment in skills and jobs across the U.K. as well as new production arrangements to support its long-term sustainability and growth.

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The confirmation comes a day after a leaked letter from Donelan to U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak suggested that the privatization process would not go ahead.

The government, following discussions with Channel 4 and the independent production sector, have confirmed a package of measures as an alternative to a sale. This includes reforms via the Media Bill which will eventually allow Channel 4 to make and own some of its content and a new statutory duty on its board members to protect the broadcaster’s long-term financial sustainability. Channel 4 has also committed to increasing roles outside London and providing more opportunities for people from across the U.K. to gain experience in the sector as part of this package.

One of the key elements of the government alternative to the Channel 4 sale is the removal of the publisher-broadcaster requirement, meaning that all its shows are commissioned or acquired from third parties – such as independent producers or other broadcasters – who typically retain the rights to those programs. Channel 4 has welcomed the government’s commitment to engage closely with the independent production sector about the potential impact of this proposal.

Producers’ body Pact has expressed some reservations on this matter, saying their main opposition to privatization was the proposals around in-house production. “Any relaxation of Channel 4’s publisher-broadcaster status will be a blow to the sector, who are already facing increased production and business related costs,” Pact said in a statement. “We have made clear the impact in-house production will have on indies across the U.K. and the wider creative economy. However, Pact is encouraged that the government is committed to working with the indie sector to ensure the changes to the publisher-broadcaster status do not adversely impact the sector.”

Channel 4 has also committed to doubling their investment in skills.

Donelan said: “Channel 4 is a British success story and a linchpin of our booming creative industries. After reviewing the business case and engaging with the relevant sectors I have decided that Channel 4 should not be sold.”

“This announcement will bring huge opportunities across the U.K. with Channel 4’s commitment to double their skills investment to £10 million [$12 million] and double the number of jobs outside of London. The package will also safeguard the future of our world leading independent production sector. We will work closely with them to add new protections such as increasing the amount of content C4C must commission from independent producers.”

Alex Mahon, chief executive of Channel 4, added: “The principle of public ownership for Channel 4 is now set for the foreseeable future, a decision which allows us to be even more of a power in the digital world.

“Channel 4 is innovative, editorially brilliant and loved by audiences that others don’t reach, most of all the young and underrepresented. In the analogue world, we did this spectacularly. Now, in the digital era, we are doing it again. Working with the world-leading TV and film producers of the U.K., we continue to give birth to ideas that thrill audiences and change perspectives globally.

“Five years ago, we committed to representing the whole of the U.K. on screen and to growing our impact across the nations and regions. Most recently, we took on the job of removing obstacles for young people who thought a career in this industry was somehow not for them.

“I am personally delighted that we will be able to do more, making positive change for the people that others don’t fight for. We will move faster, invest more, take more risks, break down barriers and push boundaries; getting up to do that every day is an utter privilege for those of us lucky enough to work at Channel 4.”

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