Tuesday 20 July 2021 7:30 pm

Channel 4 chair hits back at 'very harmful' privatisation plans

Channel 4’s chairman has hit back at the government’s plans to privatise the broadcaster, saying such a step would be “very harmful” to viewers and risk thousands of jobs.

Last month it emerged that the government is preparing a consultation into the privatisation of the broadcaster.

But in a letter to culture secretary Oliver Dowden, seen by the Telegraph, chairman Oliver Gurassa tore into the plan.

“The lack of any detailed analysis, evidence or impact assessment leaves us as a board deeply concerned given our statutory responsibility to deliver Channel 4’s remit,” he wrote.

“Indeed, we have serious concerns that the consequences will be very harmful, both to the UK’s creative economy and to the choice and breadth of distinctive British-made content available to UK audiences.”

Gurassa’s letter is the latest sign that any attempt to take the broadcaster private could trigger a bitter battle.

Channel 4, which is owned by the government but commercially-funded through advertising, has faced growing competition as younger audiences increasingly tune in to streaming rivals.

The government has argued that a sale would guarantee the broadcaster, which was set up by Margaret Thatcher’s government, “thrives for another 40 years”.

But chief executive Alex Mahon last month also criticised the plans, questioning the logic that the move would make the broadcaster stronger.

“The government has a right to look at it [privatisation],” she told reporters. “It hasn’t looked at it for five years, I think, maybe four-and-a-half, and it’s reasonable to look at it from time to time, and a lot has changed in that time.

“But I think, in any examination of it, we’ve got to be clear that it’s about – as the secretary of state said to the select committee – about making Channel 4 stronger.

“And, you know, my question would be: what’s the analysis to show what makes us stronger?”

Mahon pointed to the fact that Channel 4 does not pursue a profit, but rather pumps money back into the British production sector. She warned this would not continue under a commercial business model.

Concerns have also been raised that a sale would harm the UK’s thriving production sector, as under current rules Channel 4 is barred from producing its own shows and instead commissions programming from independent producers.

A string of high-profile stars including Sir David Attenborough and Armando Iannucci have voiced opposition to the plans, while John McVay, chief executive of industry body Pact, warned the “thesis that bigger is always better is an archaic concept from an analogue past”.