We must protect Channel Four

On 2nd November 1982, at 4:40 pm, Scottish television presenter Paul Coia made an announcement that would change British television forever; “Good afternoon. It’s a pleasure to be able to say to you: Welcome to Channel Four”.

While the plans for a fourth independent television channel were originally devised in 1977, under the Callaghan Administration, it wouldn’t be until 1982 under Margaret Thatcher that these plans were put into motion, bringing us Channel Four and the Welsh equivalent, S4C (Sianel Pedwar Cymru/Channel Four Wales). Since its inception, we’ve seen channels branch off from Channel Four, including but not limited to 4Music, E4, More4, Film4, and a streaming platform in the form of All4. As of late, there’s been a lot of talk from the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport regarding selling Channel Four, justifying it with the claim that doing so would make it “more competitive”, in comparison to competitors such as Netflix and Amazon Prime. This is despite the fact that Channel Four is, first and foremost, a broadcaster and not a streaming platform.

While Channel Four doesn’t create its own content, it plays a pivotal role in providing opportunities and platforms to independent production companies. From Dispatches to Friday Night Live, Brass Eye, Brookside, 24 Hours in A&E, the “Educating” series; these are shows that were experimental and different from what other providers were and are offering. Channel Four isn’t just “independent television” in the sense of its ownership, but in the spirit of the word too. And, of course, we can’t forget its unique ownership and funding situation. While being publicly owned, its funding comes from advertisement revenue; a cooperative approach towards the running of Channel Four between the public and private sectors.

This is why it’s puzzling to hear Nadine Dorries talk of the privatisation of Channel Four as a “relief” upon the taxpayer. She has justified selling off the much-loved broadcaster as if doing so is to remove a burden. If it costs the government next-to-nothing to run, and all that is required of them is ownership, then why privatise it? I believe this is nothing more than a political decision, placing ideology above pragmatism and common sense.

So, the question remains: where does Channel Four go from here? What is the fate of Channel Four? I believe we should support The Cooperative Party’s motion to transition Channel Four towards mutual ownership. In my opinion, this would not only be a major win for independent television, but also for the cooperative and mutual sector.

We must keep Channel Four free and open to everyone, not locked away behind a paywall.

Please sign and share the Coop Party’s petition to protect Channel Four!

https://party.coop/channel4

* Jack Meredith is a Welsh Liberal Democrat member.

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5 Comments

  • Brad Barrows 7th Apr '22 - 5:53pm

    ITV is privately owned, financed by advertising and available to anyone so long as they have paid their television tax (BBC licence fee.) There is no reason why moving Channel 4 to the private sector should lead to a paywall being introduced rather than them carrying on deriving income from advertising.

  • First step Channel4, second step BBC…

  • David Garlick 8th Apr '22 - 11:54am

    # Roland I agree entirely. There will be nothing left if the Tory divestment is allowed to role on unchecked. There is a need to respond, wether successful in stopping it or not , to begin to alert the public to the threat to the BBC and alert the Govt to the opposition they wil face if they try to do the same to the BBC.

  • The government’s excuses for selling off C4 have been pretty thin, to say the least.
    If someone wants to start a UK version of Netflix, couldn’t they do so without buying up an existing operation?
    Does it matter if C4 doesn’t go down that route?
    Do we even need another streaming service, it’s not like there aren’t plenty to choose from?
    What are the implication for S4C?
    Would the buyer have to continue public service broadcasting?
    …and free-to-view broadcasting?
    The government says it will use the proceeds as grants to TV companies to make programmes. But those proceeds would be finite, they’d soon run out.
    It really smacks of spite because of hostile news headlines in the past.

  • The reasons for selling off Channel 4 are purely ideological – the Tories just don’t like the idea that a government-owned corporation can not only be successful, but actually profitable (C4 turns a profit year on year), and that it actually has the gall to criticise the government.

    If they really don’t like the idea of a government owning a broadcaster, then why not just spin it off into a trust, for example one similar to the Scott Trust owning the Guardian – still governed by OFCOM, but still able to reinvest the profit fully into programming – or create a partnership, like John Lewis, where independent TV producers have a say alongside viewers and staff?

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