The decision to privatise Channel 4

Immediate reactions from the media industry

Laura Behan, Deputy Head of AV


Over the last 40 years Channel 4 has held a unique position in the UK broadcast landscape due to its remit ‘to be a disruptive, innovative force in UK broadcasting’. Founded in 1982 to deliver to underrepresented audiences in the UK, the channel revolutionised the British TV landscape. It’s not an exaggeration to say that some era defining moments in TV only happened because of Channel 4. Whether it be the first pre watershed lesbian kiss or the inception of reality TV with Big Brother, C4 shouted loudest to break taboos, represent the wider UK community, whilst providing a welcoming environment to develop home grown talent.

The channel is governed by their public service remit which is agreed by Parliament. The legislation it upholds applies to all services including Channel 4, E4, More4, Film4, All4 and its digital platforms. The channel also adheres to specific quantitative obligations set and monitored by Ofcom across multiple areas such as; News and Current Affairs, production, subtitling and audio description. However, unlike the BBC which is paid for by the taxpayer, Channel 4 is funded by advertising.

So what will happen to Channel 4’s remit once it is privatised?

Since the news was shared on Monday evening the industry has spoken out with popular Channel 4 faces leading the way. Location, Location, Location host Kirsty Allsopp took to Twitter to air her concerns “LLL makes a fortune for C4, it’s news and current affairs and cutting-edge dramas are likely to be thinned out’. Filmmaker Asif Kapedia, has praised the channel for financing and supporting all his short films. This reaction has come from popular opinion that privatising Channel 4 will lead to less innovation and support for underrepresented groups across the UK.

The decision was announced by Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries, who herself has received some backlash. Channel 4 being an advertiser-funded model seemed to surprise her in a committee meeting last year, in which she claimed the channel was owed public money. Incidents like these have been a major concern for the industry in the motivation for the decision. Does the Culture Secretary truly understand how the channel is operated and continues to be successful business?

There are still lots of questions to be answered. Who would buy Channel 4? What would change at Channel 4 from a consumer, advertiser and industry perspective. For now, what we do know is the government has decided to go ahead with plans to privatise the channel.

Personally, I am disappointed by the decision. Growing up Channel 4 provided content that I would have never seen anywhere else on UK TV stations. Even today, it continues to push boundaries. The most recent brilliant example for me is the Black to Front initiative. The channel called upon the industry to improve Black representation on and off the screen. They make tangible changes to our industry and to the culture of the UK.

Change can be good and I will remain open-minded that the Channel will continue its ground-breaking work for the UK broadcasting industry. But I am also keeping my fingers crossed for the decision to be reversed.