UK Government to privatise Channel 4

Channel 4 in the UK is to be privatised by the UK government, despite fervent industry opposition to the move.

C4 CEO, Alex Mahon, revealed the news in a note to staff on Monday night, confirming that culture secretary Nadine Dorries would now set a path to end the organisation’s 40-year private ownership.

“We have been informed in the last hour that the government will shortly announce that the secretary of state has decided to proceed with the proposal to privatise Channel 4,” Mahon told staff.

She added that the broadcaster had “proposed a vision for the next 40 years” which it was confident “would allow us to build on the successes of the first 40.”

“That vision was rooted in continued public ownership and was built upon the huge amount of public value this model has delivered to date and the opportunity to deliver so much more in the future.”

Mahon added that “ownership of Channel 4 is for government to propose and parliament to decide”, suggesting the broadcaster could yet avoid privatisation.

Nadine Dorries

Background & context

The decision has come as something of a shock to the UK industry, following the UK government delaying any decision on privatising the pubcaster last summer.

In July 2021, the government laid out a formal consultation into the privatisation of C4, arguing that “the evolving media landscape poses material challenges to Channel 4’s future success and sustainability under its current ownership model and remit.”

A decision was expected soon, but culture secretary Nadine Dorries delayed her response after an outpouring of public support for the broadcaster.

Over 60,000 Brits reportedly submitted their opinions to the government in support of its status as a publicly owned, while trade bodies including Pact have warned that production firms will close should the privatisation go ahead.

Bankers have estimated the worth of C4 to be around £650m, with Discovery and ITV among those reportedly interested in an acquisition.

For the broadcaster’s part, Mahon has vocally stated her opposition to a sale. Speaking at RTS Cambridge in September, she said that there is “no data or evidence” that privatising the UK broadcaster would create a more diverse ecosystem.

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