Over 700 U.K. production companies, ranging from tiny indies to industry titans, have signed an open letter addressed to the next U.K. Prime Minister urging the privatization of public broadcaster Channel 4 to be halted in its tracks.
Current Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who resigned in July but remains in office until next Monday (Sept. 5), is set to be replaced by either Liz Truss or Rishi Sunak, who are both frontrunners for the top job.
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Under Johnson’s administration, plans for privatizing Channel 4 were already in motion under culture secretary Nadine Dorries, a former actor who is almost unanimously unpopular in the industry.
With a change of leadership, producers are hoping Channel 4 might get a last minute stay of execution. Producers’ body Pact have now organized the letter, addressed jointly to Truss and Sunak, in which they write: “…taking forward privatisation plans in their current form would damage a thriving independent sector, deter voters, and endanger Margaret Thatcher’s legacy. We strongly urge you to reconsider these plans.”
Among the signatories are “Conversations With Friends” producer Element Pictures, “Peppa Pig” owners Entertainment One, “Doctor Who” producers Bad Wolf and unscripted giant Banijay, responsible for formats including “Big Brother.”
Read the full letter below:
Dear Ms Truss and Mr Sunak,
Should you become Prime Minister in September, it is critical that you reconsider plans to privatise Channel 4.
As independent TV and film production companies, we are deeply concerned about the plans in their current form. We know first-hand how Channel 4’s unique commissioning model has helped thousands of independent production companies get off the ground, and contributed to building a thriving sector. Current plans could have a devastating impact not only on these production companies, but also on the country’s levelling up efforts.
You have both declared yourselves as proud Thatcherites, but what better way to honour Margaret Thatcher’s legacy than to uphold the very organisation she set up?
Her aim with Channel 4 was to create a disruptive force that would spark competition and inspire entrepreneurship. She achieved just that, leading to the creation of the flourishing independent TV and film production sector we see today. It is one of few that have rebounded completely from the pandemic, contributing revenue to the Treasury and the economy.
Bringing Channel 4 into private ownership would hurt the sector that Mrs Thatcher helped to build, as it would enable a new buyer to consolidate production in-house and commission far less from the independent companies we represent. Over the next decade, it estimated that this shift to in-house production would lead to a loss of £4.2 billion to our thriving independent film and TV sector.
In particular, the current plans would damage independent production companies based outside London, by substantially cutting the quota for the level of spend required from Channel 4 in the nations and regions. 55% of Channel 4’s spend goes to companies based in the nations and regions, and this will fall to just a 35% quota under private ownership. Channel 4 has also recently opened headquarters in Leeds, but cost-cutting under new ownership could see jobs and opportunities at risk.
Finally, we believe that there are more pressing issues that should be prioritised over the privatisation of Channel 4. Voters and Conservative Party members seem to agree – polling by JL Partners on behalf of WPI Strategy showed that just 26% of Conservative 2019 voters support Channel 4 privatisation. More importantly, only 11% of this small number of Tory voters would put it in their top three priorities for the Government to deliver between now and the next general election. This is the lowest of any policy polled.
In the current economic climate of high inflation, the rising cost of living, widespread strike action and public services trying to rebuild from the pandemic, now is the time to focus on more pressing challenges than the unpopular privatisation of a beloved broadcaster.
We recognise that Channel 4 is not perfect, just like every other organisation. However, taking forward privatisation plans in their current form would damage a thriving independent sector, deter voters, and endanger Margaret Thatcher’s legacy. We strongly urge you to reconsider these plans.
We look forward to working with your Government over the coming months to ensure that Channel 4 can continue to support a thriving independent TV and film production sector.
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