Government move to let Channel 4 make content prompts concern from indie sector

Channel 4 will be able to make and own some of its own content under new proposals from the Government, which confirmed the broadcaster will not be sold off.

Unlike other broadcasters, everything the channel currently airs is commissioned from external production companies.

The announcement prompted Pact, the trade body for the independent sector, to warn the move could have “the same damaging outcome” on its members as privatisation if “effective protections” are not put in place.

The Government will legislate through the Media Bill to relax the publisher-broadcaster restriction, which currently prevents Channel 4 from creating content in-house.

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The broadcaster’s flagship programmes are all currently made by independent production company’s with The Great British Bake Off coming from Love Productions and Gogglebox from Studio Lambert.

On Thursday, Pact welcomed the Government’s decision to keep Channel 4 in public ownership but warned against new measures to allow it to create its own content.

Chairwoman Jane Muirhead said: “Whilst it is clearly the right decision by the Government to reverse the privatisation of Channel 4, the decision to allow Channel 4 to produce its own in-house programming has the potential to achieve the same damaging outcome, if there are not effective protections put in place.

“Pact will be meeting with Government and working closely with them to ensure that the right safeguards are established to protect the UK’s successful world-class indie sector.”

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Responding to Pact’s comments, Channel 4’s chief executive, Alex Mahon, told online news site Deadline: “The indie sector is the spiritual heart of Channel 4 and our success and their success is intertwined. We work very closely with Pact and want to make sure this doesn’t have unintended consequences for the sector.”

However, broadcasting union Bectu welcomed the move to allow Channel 4 to create content in-house.

Its head, Philippa Childs, said: “Channel 4 costs the UK taxpayer nothing, yet gives us a thriving independent production sector, thousands of jobs and world-renowned, innovative content. We wholeheartedly welcome the Government’s decision to scrap these short-sighted and damaging privatisation plans.

“This is a win for public service broadcasting, a win for audiences, and for the UK’s creative industries as a whole. It is also welcome news for thousands of freelancers, who are critical to the success of the broadcasting sector and continue to face post-pandemic uncertainty coupled with a chronic skills shortage and the cost-of-living crisis.”

Ms Childs added: “We also welcome the opportunity for more commercial flexibility for the broadcaster and will be seeking to engage on how this might best be balanced with safeguarding its role in driving innovation and investment in independent production.”

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Channel 4 has also agreed to enhance its support for the independent TV production sector and regional roles, doubling the number of roles outside London in 2025, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) said.

Ms Mahon said: “The principle of public ownership for Channel 4 is now set for the foreseeable future, a decision which allows us to be even more of a power in the digital world.

“Channel 4 is innovative, editorially brilliant and loved by audiences that others don’t reach, most of all the young and under-represented.

“I am personally delighted that we will be able to do more, making positive change for the people that others don’t fight for.

“We will move faster, invest more, take more risks, break down barriers and push boundaries; getting up to do that every day is an utter privilege for those of us lucky enough to work at Channel 4.”

Channel 4 annual report
Channel 4 chief executive Alex Mahon welcomed the decision to keep the broadcaster in public ownership (Yui Mok/PA)

The reforms come as part of Culture Secretary Michelle Donelan’s decision to scrap plans to privatise the broadcaster, which had been announced under the tenure of her predecessor, Nadine Dorries.

Ms Donelan said: “Channel 4 is a British success story and a linchpin of our booming creative industries. After reviewing the business case and engaging with the relevant sectors, I have decided that Channel 4 should not be sold.

“This announcement will bring huge opportunities across the UK with Channel 4’s commitment to double their skills investment to £10 million and double the number of jobs outside of London.

“The package will also safeguard the future of our world-leading independent production sector. We will work closely with them to add new protections, such as increasing the amount of content C4C must commission from independent producers.”

Former culture secretary Ms Dorries, who led the move to privatise Channel 4 in Boris Johnson’s government, previously hit out at the reversal of the plan.

Nadine Dorries to guest host Piers Morgan’s TalkTV show
Nadine Dorries led the move to privatise Channel 4 while culture secretary in Boris Johnson’s government (Kirsty O’Connor/PA)

She tweeted: “Three years of a progressive Tory government being washed down the drain. Levelling up, dumped. Social care reform, dumped. Keeping young and vulnerable people safe online, watered down.

“A bonfire of EU leg, not happening. Sale of C4 giving back £2b reversed. Replaced with what?”

Channel 4 was created in 1982 by the Conservative government of Baroness Thatcher and is entirely funded by advertising, out of public ownership.