Nine in 10 people disagree with Government plans to privatise Channel 4 – survey

More than nine in 10 people do not think Channel Four would struggle to be a success if it remained in public ownership, a new survey suggests.

Some 96% of responses to a Government consultation said they did not agree with the statement that there are “challenges in the current TV broadcasting market” that present barriers to “a sustainable Channel Four” staying in public hands.

Just 2% said they agreed.

A large number of responses to the consultation came through the social campaigning organisation 38 Degrees, which rephrased the Government’s statement as: “Do you think Channel Four should be privatised?”

Cabinet Meeting
Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries has outlined plans to privatise Channel 4 (Yui Mok/PA)

But even with these stripped out of the figures, the vast majority of the other respondents – 89% – disagreed that Channel Four is facing challenges to a successful future in public ownership, while 5% agreed.

A total of 55,737 responses were received from individuals to this question, 40,408 of which came via the 38 Degrees campaign.

The broadcaster has been publicly owned since it was founded in 1982 and is funded by advertising.

The Government is forging ahead with plans to privatise it, claiming public ownership is holding it back from competing with streaming giants such as Netflix.

The consultation also asked whether Channel Four would be “better placed to deliver sustainably against the Government’s aims for public service broadcasting” if it was outside public ownership.

Of the 55,365 responses received from individuals, 91% said no to this question, while 4% said yes.

Excluding the 40,076 responses that came via the 38 Degrees campaign – which rephrased the question as “do you think a privatised Channel Four will be more financially sustainable than in public ownership?” – the percentages were 88% against and 9% in favour.

Plans for the sale are set out in a White Paper, which argues the market in which Channel Four operates “has changed radically and is continuing to change” since it was established.

While it acknowledges the channel is currently commercially and financially successful, the paper continues: “The company’s current financial position and its short-term outlook cannot therefore be our sole focus.

“Its historical performance does not guarantee its future sustainability – we must pay attention to the longer term outlook too and consider what tools will be necessary for future success.

“As is the case for other public service broadcasters, Channel Four faces growing competition for audiences, programmes and talent from new global video on demand providers with greater spending power.

“Audiences are increasingly likely to consume content on non-linear platforms such as video-on-demand services.

“In the Government’s view, Channel Four’s public ownership model is constraining its ability to respond to the challenges and opportunities of this changing
broadcasting market in the long term.”

The paper acknowledges there is “a clear strength of feeling on this issue” and said the Government has taken the consultation responses into account and “examined a broad range of other options outside of a change of ownership”.

It added: “This is not a decision the Government has taken lightly.”

The paper also said the Government acknowledges concerns raised during the consultation about the impact removing the publisher-broadcaster restriction on Channel Four, which effectively bans it from producing its own content, could have on the independent production sector.

However, it added: “We do not agree with those who have argued that it is necessary to retain the restriction in order for the sector to continue to succeed.”

The paper continues: “The Government does not believe that private ownership has to be to the detriment of public good. It is not a binary choice, and the right owner will provide more investment, and support Channel Four’s role in delivering public good.

“Some people are concerned that a private owner will make fundamental changes to what Channel Four does, and how it sees its place in the public service broadcaster family.

“Although it is not possible to predict precisely how its future obligations would be operationalised by any particular buyer, we would expect buyers to see the value in making decisions that continue to deliver outcomes in line with those we see today, as they are linked to Channel Four’s brand.

“The right owner for Channel Four will be one who shares our ambition for the business and our belief in what makes it special.”

The broadcasting White Paper also outlines new plans for Ofcom to regulate streaming platforms to “protect audiences” from “harmful material”.

The Government will give the UK media watchdog the power to draft and enforce a new video-on-demand code, aimed at setting standards for “larger TV-like services” such as Netflix, ITV Hub and Now TV to level the rules with traditional broadcasters.

The maximum fine for a breach of the code will be £250,000 or an amount up to 5% of their revenue, whichever is higher.

A consultation will also be launched on new rules to ensure broadcasters such BBC, ITV and Channel 4 make “distinctively British” programmes.