UK privatization of irreverent Channel 4 is causing a stir

Access to Channel 4 HQ in London on Tuesday 5 April 2022.

Nadine Dorries, Britain’s culture secretary, sparked controversy on Monday 4 April by announcing on Twitter the privatization of Channel 4, created 40 years ago by the Thatcher government to boost national audiovisual production. “Channel 4 rightly holds a special place in our lives and I want it to always remain that way. But I’ve come to the conclusion that by staying in the public eye, the channel can’t compete with giants like Netflix or Amazon.”assured Dorrie. “A change in shareholders will give Channel 4 the tools and freedom to thrive while remaining a public service”added this politician, accustomed to controversy, but loyal to Boris Johnson.

A white paper should be published by the end of April, and a privatization bill to be included in the Johnson administration’s next legislative program should be made public on May 10. Downing Street wants to put the chain on sale before the next general election (in 2024) and hopes to earn 1 billion pounds sterling (1.2 billion euros), according to national media. The announcement comes as only half a surprise: the Johnson administration had already stated its intentions several times. But it was very poorly received by Channel 4 management who said: “disappointed” of the government decree, Tuesday, April 5, and warned that privatization [allait] lead to a very long legislative process”

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The government’s arguments do not convince the broadcaster, the experts or the opposition parties. Channel 4 receives almost no public money: it is financed by advertisements, which represent 90% of its revenue. It certainly suffered from the downturn in the advertising market during the pandemic, but quickly bounced back and is already benefiting from the upturn, allowing it to free up new resources to fund its programs.

“Cultural Vandalism”

Above all, created by the Iron Lady to shake up the national audiovisual landscape – at the time completely dominated by the BBC – the station has largely fulfilled its contract by multiplying the creative programs that have become cult (peep show“Big Brother”, goggle box) and by fostering an entire ecosystem of regional TV producers. Audacious, Channel 4 has been able to attract a young audience and tackle difficult themes such as the Civil War in Northern Ireland (with the series derry girls)AIDS (with the wonderful series It’s a sin) and disability (by live broadcasting the Paralympic Games events during the summer of 2021). She also launched careers, such as that of Sacha Baron Cohen, thanks to the “Da Ali G Show”, broadcast in 2000.

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