UK government reportedly set to shelve C4 privatisation

As new UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak attempts to get to grips with his bulging in-tray, authoritative reports suggest he is planning to scrap the proposed privatisation of broadcaster Channel 4. If correct, it will represent a victory for media industry lobbyists and a u-turn on Sunak’s position when Chancellor under former leader Boris Johnson.

UK prime minister Rishi Sunak

The Financial Times kicked off the C4 rumours on Friday when it said the decision to drop the sale of Channel 4 from an upcoming media bill “has been signalled by Downing Street to industry and Whitehall”. Prior to that, the government’s only comment on the matter had come from Culture Secretary Michelle Donelan when she said (in September): “We’re looking at the business case for the sale of Channel 4 and making sure we still agree with that decision – and that’s what I’m doing.”

The widely-held view among media observers and the UK’s opposition Labour Party is that privatising C4 would be an act of cultural vandalism – potentially devastating to the country’s highly-regarded independent production sector. While Chancellor, however, Sunak seemed open to the idea, his spokesperson at the time saying: “Privatisation will help Channel 4 to thrive in an age where they are also competing with Netflix, Amazon, Apple and many more — standing still is not an option.”

As PM, Sunak has found himself having to shift position on various issues in order to shore up the government’s support from Conservative Party members – and make sure he is catching the mood of the media and electorate. Last week, for example, he reversed his decision not to attend the COP27 climate summit in Egypt. Right now, privatising Channel 4 may look like a potential banana skin for the embattled PM.

Tags: Channel 4, UK

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