Channel 4

Source: Channel 4

The UK government is to push ahead with plans to privatise Channel 4.

Chief executive Alex Mahon has written to staff informing them that the DCMS is to proceed with its proposal to put the broadcaster into private hands, following the consultation that closed in September.

Mahon told staff that the “distracting and disruptive” plans, which are expected to form part of the government’s forthcoming media bill, could take 18 months or more to enact.

“During that time, we’ll continue to work with DCMS and government, and with our supporters across the industry to make the arguments to ensure that Channel 4 can continue to deliver its remit,” she said. “It is very important at this moment to remain focused on the brilliant work you all do, every single day, to make Channel 4 such an amazing broadcaster and such a phenomenal place to work.”

Mahon said that while the vision that had been presented to government was “rooted in continued public ownership”, the decision about the broadcaster’s ownership model ultimately sat with politicians.

“Our job is to deliver what parliament tasks us to do, and if or when that changes, then I am confident that this incredible organisation will respond with the relentless energy it has always displayed in pursuit of its goals and the remit,” she said.

A government source told The Sun: “Ministers have decided that, although C4 as a business is currently performing well, government ownership is holding it back in the face of a rapidly-changing and competitive media landscape.

“A change of ownership will remove its straightjacket, giving C4 the freedom to innovate and grow so it can flourish and thrive long into the future and support the whole of the UK creative industries.”

The Sun reported that a sale is expected to generate as much as £1bn, and claimed proceeds are expected to filter through to the independent production sector and provide skills training in areas that the government has earmarked for levelling up. 

A C4 spokesman added that the fact the government had not chosen to recognise the public interest concerns raised via the 60,000 submissions to the consultation was “disappointing”.

“C4 has engaged in good faith with the government throughout the consultation process, demonstrating how it can continue to commission much-loved programmes from the independent sector across the UK that represent and celebrate every aspect of British life as well as increase its contribution to society, while maintaining ownership by the public,” he added.

“Recently, C4 presented DCMS with a real alternative to privatisation that would safeguard its future financial stability, allowing it to do significantly more for the British public, the creative industries and the economy, particularly outside London.

”This is particularly important given that the organisation is only two years into a significant commitment to drive up its impact in the UK’s nations and regions.”

Shadow culture secretary Lucy Powell tweeted: ”Nothing screams a rudderless government more than this. Selling off Channel 4, which doesn’t cost the tax-payer a penny anyway, to what is likely to be a foreign company, makes absolutely no sense. It will cost jobs & opportunities in Yorkshire and hit our creative economy.”

Official confirmation of the privatisation will be issued by DCMS this week. 

This story first appeared on Screen’s sister site Broadcast