Friday, 22 July 2016

Stopping the Tories Channel 4 Privatisation.

I have been leading Labours fight to stop Channel 4 privatisation. An asset that should be kept in public ownership.

My Mirror Online article

My Politics Home article

My Parliamentary Debate

My parliamentary question on the floor of the House this week

Guardian article

Emails of support from Channel 4 staff ... Obviously private!

My letter to the Secretary of State for Culture Media and Sport.

The Rt Hon Karen Bradley MP
Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport
Department for Culture, Media and Sport
100 Parliament Street
London, SW1A 2BQ

Dear Karen,

I am writing for two reasons. Firstly, to congratulate you on your appointment as Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport. It is a brief of huge importance and I hope that you will be able to make a better job of it than the previous Culture Secretary. Secondly, to encourage you to resist effecting one of the most worrying ambitions of your predecessor: the privatisation of Channel 4 (C4).

C4 is a public service broadcaster with a remit to deliver high quality, innovative, and alternative content. Its success in fulfilling this statutory obligation is evident in a consistent viewing share of 11% over 30 years, numerous Oscars for its Film4 productions, and unfailingly popular programmes like Dispatches or Father Ted. What’s more, as a publicly-owned but commercially-funded broadcaster, C4 airs such innovative content in a sustainable manner. Because it is funded by advertising and financially self-sufficient, taxpayers can watch high quality programmes at no cost.

C4 is a unique part of the UK’s diverse broadcasting ecology. Its publisher-broadcaster model means it commissions all of its content from independent production companies, supporting a vast network of SMEs. Indeed, by its own analysis, C4 adds over £1bn to UK GVA and supports 19,000 jobs.

The Channel also plays a vital role in ensuring this ecology is representative of our society. Trevor Phillips, a former Chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, is not wrong when he says that C4 has been at the forefront of promoting minorities in the media: C4 has a higher proportion of BAME viewers than any other PSB and is the only PSB whose viewership is getting younger. 

Its coverage of the Paralympics is a great example of how C4 implements its commitment to diversity; 66% of on-screen talent and 15% of its production team will comprise people with disabilities.

C4’s success in giving airtime to people across the UK is no more clearly evident than in its engagement with regional broadcasting. In the last 5 years, C4 invested £720m in content outside of London and, from its Northern Writers’ Award to its funding of Leeds-based company True North, C4 is at the forefront of promoting regional talent. As programmes like This is England or Phoenix Nights testify, C4 is a rare example of the Government’s ‘Northern Powerhouse’ at work.

Privatisation, however, would jeopardize the quality of C4’s content, undermine its contribution to local economies, and threaten its promotion of diversity in the media.

Changing C4’s primary operational determinant to the pursuit of profit would inevitably force the Channel to cut expenditure on programming. To deliver a similar profit margin to ITV (28%), C4 would have to cut over £200m per year. This would not only impede current production levels; it would necessitate a change in C4’s remit, since high quality, innovative content would become unachievable.

In addition to cutting C4’s programming output, privatisation would harm jobs and SMEs. C4’s current £1.1bn annual contribution to GDP would be £320m lower under a privatised model, representing a loss of £1.6bn of public value to viewers, taxpayers and the industries, over 5 years. Given C4’s support for SMEs and job creation programmes, selling off C4 would be economically nonsensical.

A Channel dictated by the needs of profit would also undermine its promotion of diversity. Under its current model, C4 balances socially valuable but loss-making programming – such as the Paralympic Games – with its more commercially successful broadcasting. But under privatisation, programmes would become determined by their shareholder, rather than their societal, value.

That privatisation would be wholly irresponsible is made even clearer if we consider the UK’s recent vote to leave the EU. Selling C4 into private ownership would instigate a wave of job losses in neglected regions, at a time when the country requires economic stability. Similarly, privatisation would cut the programming of a broadcaster which has consistently promoted diversity, screened the experiences of people from across the UK, and successfully bridged the gulf between the capitol and our regions.

Channel 4 is a Thatcherite creation which has withstood market volatility to become one of Britain’s most well-known institutions. As my recent Westminster Hall debate or the Lords’ Communications Committee’s report revealed, it attracts support from across the political and broadcasting spectrum.

I hope that during your first months as DCMS Secretary you will take pride in one of your Party’s greatest achievements and end the speculation of privatisation – speculation which is increasingly taken its toll on C4’s commercial activity and day-to-day operations.

Kind regards,
Graham Jones MP