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Channel 4

The Tories are mad to sell off Channel 4

The opening scene from Channel 4-backed Trainspotting

Nadine Dorries has announced plans to privatise Channel 4, says James Ball in The New Statesman. The Culture Secretary says government ownership is holding the channel back from competing against the streaming giants. But that’s nonsense. Channel 4 may be owned by the government, but it’s completely funded through advertising and commercial partnerships – so it costs taxpayers nothing, compared to £13.25 a month for the BBC licence fee and £15.99 for Netflix’s most expensive deal. And an organisation of Channel 4’s size – which spends less than £1bn a year on content – will never be able to go head to head with the likes of Netflix and Amazon, which spend billions.

The truth is, there’s no good Conservative case for the move. Channel 4 “was founded by that most radical of leftists, Margaret Thatcher”, to show that a public broadcaster could succeed without licence fee revenue. She was right. It’s efficiently run: the BBC makes £228,000 in revenue per employee, ITV makes £443,000, while Channel 4 rakes in “just over £1m”. And Channel 4 jump-started Britain’s world-leading TV and film industry. Because it is banned under its founding charter from making programmes in-house, it has invested more than £12bn in the UK’s independent production sector over the years – a sector the big streaming services now flock to. If the channel is privatised, it will “inevitably be purchased by an international conglomerate”, ruining that made-in-Britain dynamic. Why should a Tory government interfere with a “perfectly successful enterprise”? Dorries’s plan is “bad business practice, bad politics and bad Conservatism”.

🎬🏆 Since 1992, films funded by Channel 4 have won 32 Oscars, compared to just five for BBC-backed movies.