Having recently opened their new Creative Hub in Bristol, Channel 4 is facing threats of privatisation from the government. In response to the proposed changes, an open letter is being sent to Nadine Dorries, Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.
The letter, from We Own It, is signed by advocates from across all sectors, reiterating the case for Channel 4’s unique model as a publicly owned but commercially funded broadcaster. The signatories include Co-Leader of the Green Party and Bristol City Councillor Carla Denyer.
Here is the letter in full:
On the 14th of September 2021 your department closed its consultation calling for views and evidence into a potential change of ownership of the Channel 4 television corporation. News outlets reported that a substantial 60,000 responses were submitted and understandably the department for DCMS needed time to review those responses. We welcome this time for consideration and recognition of the gravity of this decision. However, workers in the industry as well as the viewing public need a clear commitment about the future of Channel 4 and an end to the uncertainty over industry jobs in our nations and regions.
We, as the signatories below, are reiterating the case for Channel 4’s unique model as a publicly owned but commercially funded broadcaster, at no cost to the taxpayer, to be retained into the future. A position supported by 82% of the viewing public in a Tapestry poll.
We draw attention to evidence that Channel 4 is performing above and beyond expectations in a changing media landscape and is projected to do so into the future.
We believe that a change in the ownership model of Channel 4 poses a significant risk to jobs and small businesses in the nations and regions outside London and as a result directly contradicts any commitment this government has made to levelling up across the UK.
We ask that as Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport you make a public commitment to retain Channel 4 in public ownership.
Channel 4 is a Great British success story. It produces world-famous programmes and films such as Slumdog Millionaire, Father Ted, and The Great British Bake Off. It also makes a profit, boosts jobs and nurtures talent across the UK.
In 2021 Channel 4’s revenues hit £1 billion, a 19% growth from 2020. It reported a £74 million pre-tax surplus and net cash reserves of £201 million. A substantial portion of Channel 4’s growth has come from its digital revenues which are projected to rise by 32% each year, beyond its target to double digital viewers and make digital advertising 30% of all revenue. All this at no cost to the taxpayer and without Channel 4 requesting an increase on its borrowing limit.
Considering the above, the claim that Channel 4 privatisation will enable the broadcaster to better compete with online streaming providers does not hold weight. Channel 4 has always adopted an innovative and forward-facing approach to broadcasting. It was amongst the first broadcasters to establish an online streaming service in the UK and the significant growth of its digital revenues, above and beyond expectations, only demonstrates its ability to keep pace with a changing media landscape.
Privatisation will in fact create a financial burden for the Channel 4 Corporation as it will have to create value for shareholders rather than, as is currently the case, being free to invest its surplus revenues in innovative development strategies.
Ernst and Young’s reporting projects that privatisation risks a 35% drop in regional jobs dependent on Channel 4. In 2020, Channel 4 produced 58% of its content in the nations and regions outside London and has committed to spending 50% of its budget outside of the capital by 2023. This spending includes revenue for independent production companies in the nations and regions, which in 2019 received £189 million from Channel 4. In this sense the Channel 4 model plays a unique role in the UK’s broadcasting ecosystem working with more independent producers than any other broadcaster, with around 140 small businesses reliant on Channel 4 for more than half of their production revenue. This is particularly crucial to the existence of small businesses outside London, with as many as 60 production companies projected to be put at significant risk under a private ownership model.
This level of risk to jobs and small businesses in the regions and nations runs counter to the government’s commitment to levelling up across the UK. Channel 4’s headquarters in Leeds and its creative hubs in Glasgow and Bristol make significant contributions to local economies and should be retained under public ownership as strategic assets for the levelling up agenda.
We, as the signatories below, are asking as industry professionals, political representatives and as a voice of the viewing public that the government end the uncertainty around Channel 4. We ask that in consideration of Channel 4’s excellent performance and rapid growth in digital revenues you as Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport commit to safeguarding jobs and small businesses in the UK’s regions and nations and make a public commitment to retain Channel 4 under public ownership.
Cat Hobbs (Director – We Own It)
Dan Norris (West of England Combined Authority Mayor)
Tracy Brabin (West Yorkshire Combined Authority Mayor)
Frances O’Grady (General Secretary – Trades Union Congress)
Michelle Stanistreet (General Secretary – National Union of Journalists)
Paul W. Fleming (General Secretary – Equity)
Phillippa Childs (Head of BECTU)
Michael Rosen (Author and television presenter)
Alan Clements (Managing Director – Two Rivers Media, Glasgow)
Iain Scollay (Creative Director – Firecrest Films, Glasgow)
Catherine Porritt (Chair – West Yorkshire Association of Trades Union Councils)
Kevin Stannard (Secretary – Calderdale Trades Council)
Pete Keal (Secretary – Equity Leeds & Region General Branch)
National Union of Journalists (Bristol Branch)
John Toner (National Organiser – National Union of Journalists Scotland)
Nigel Costley (Regional Secretary – TUC South West)
Paul Collinson (TUC Yorkshire & the Humber Creative and Leisure Industries Committee)
Simon Crew (Secretary – Bristol Trades Council)
Professor Des Freedman (Co-Head – Department of Media, Communications and Cultural Studies Goldsmiths, University of London)
Dr. Tom Mills (Media Reform Coalition)
Colin Browne (Chair – Voice of the Viewer and Listener)
Carla Denyer (Co-leader – Green Party)
Richard Burgon MP (Leeds East)
Chris Stephens MP (Glasgow South West)