Channel 4 have said the government tried to tamper with the broadcaster’s annual report to ensure it aligned with its own privatisation ambitions.
Speaking to a committee of MPs this morning about the report’s delay, Channel 4 (C4) chief exec Alex Mahon said: “It is fair to say the DCMS made some comments that they would have preferred to see in the report, particularly about our future financial sustainability”.
“Really, the questions were about whether our wording was in line with government policy. It is the first time to my knowledge in [Channel 4’s] 40 years that there have been queries about the annual report”, she explained.
Mahon has continually pushed back against the sale of the broadcaster, pointing to the broadcaster’s £273m in cash reserves and £566m in net assets as a key indicator of its financial stability.
Meanwhile, Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries has said the broadcaster’s sale is about “saving Channel 4”, and ensuring its sustainability in a world of US streaming giants with deep pockets.
“The reason why we’re selling Channel 4 is because it’s state-owned and Channel 4 wants to raise funding in order to make more of that great content”, Dorries said in an interview with LBC last month.
Nonetheless, a key concern for Channel 4 execs is that if the sale goes ahead as it is currently mapped out in the government’s white paper, it will mean that key areas like investing in diverse voices and creative risks will be jeopardised under a private owner.
Mahon said the white paper is currently “silent” on how to preserve this remit of Channel 4.
As it stands, 55 per cent of C4 spend is outside of London, which Mahon predicts could drop to 35 per cent under white paper plans.
Meanwhile, the 100 per cent spent on indie producers could shrink to as little as 25 per cent.
All in all, she said these changes would sap £300m per annum from the indie sector and have a negative impact of £85m on the UK economy as a whole.
Mahon said the “reasonable worse case” for C4 was a purely for-profit model.
DCMS spokesperson told City A.M.: “As the owner of Channel 4, the government is fully entitled to comment on the contents of its annual report.
“During the normal process of discussion we highlighted that some language in the report could be interpreted as going against the corporation’s commitment, given to both officials and ministers, to refrain from campaigning against privatisation.
“It is the government’s job to take a long term view on how to best secure the most successful future for Channel 4 in a rapidly changing media landscape and we believe private ownership will give the broadcaster the tools to innovate and grow at pace.”