Channel 4 ‘provides competition to the BBC’ says Jeremy Hunt
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Julian Knight said it was possible for Channel 4 to thrive and compete with big US media giants as he gave his tentative support to the privatisation of the network. However, he strongly suggested the Government had made its decision to cut loose Channel 4 as revenge for its coverage of Boris Johnson and Brexit.
It emerged last night the Government had decided to sell off Channel 4, 40 years after it was first set up.
Ministers said last year that privatisation would help secure its future as a public service broadcaster.
The Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport said in a statement the decision would allow the channel to “thrive in the face of a rapidly-changing media landscape”.
Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries added in a tweet that she wanted the broadcaster to remain a “cherished place in British life”, but felt that Government ownership was “holding Channel 4 back from competing against streaming giants like Netflix and Amazon”.
The conclusion was reached after a public consultation on Channel 4’s future was carried out.
It is expected it could sell for as much as £1billion.
But reacting to the news this morning, Mr Knight said: “Elephant in the room time – is this being done for revenge for Channel 4’s biased coverage of the likes of Brexit and personal attacks on the PM?
“The timing of the announcement 7pm, coinciding with Channel 4 news, was very telling.
“Undoubtedly, across much of the party – there is a feeling of payback time and the word privatisation tickles the ivories of many.
“The money is irrelevant – equivalent to four days’ national debt interest – so it must be used to support skills in creative sectors.”
Channel 4 has built a reputation for providing alternative media coverage, with repeated suggestions of a left-wing bias.
It sparked outrage among Tory MPs after it placed an ice sculpture on stage in the place of Boris Johnson during a climate change debate after he failed to attend.
Mr Johnson chose not to appear over concerns the debate would not be balanced.
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In another incident, Presenter Jon Snow was forced to apologise after he said he had “never seen so many white people in one place” when reporting on a rally taking place to mark the day Britain left the EU.
Meanwhile, in a third incident, in 2015 the channel received more than 6,500 complaints about a docudrama that imagined what would happen if Ukip had won the election and Nigel Farage made Prime Minister.
It depicted riots in the streets and mass unemployment.
While appearing critical of the Government’s reasons for privatising the network, Mr Knight said the “greater freedom” offered would benefit the channel.
“Channel 4 will have greater freedom to compete once privatised and if managed well it should be able to continue to innovate and crucially appeal to young audiences – a real unique selling point in today’s broadcast landscape,” he said.
“Privatisation – even for some wrong reasons – can work for C4 but must be part of a thorough overhaul of all public service broadcasting.”
Channel 4 said it was “disappointed” at the Government’s decision but conceded the future of the network was a decision for the Government.
The channel’s chief executive, Alex Mahon, said in an internal email to staff on Monday her priority now was to “look after all of you and the wonderful Channel 4 spirit”.
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