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by Kirsteen Paterson
05 April 2022
Scottish Government condemns Channel 4 sale as UK Government faces Tory backlash

Channel 4 was established by Margaret Thatcher's Conservative government in the 1980s

Scottish Government condemns Channel 4 sale as UK Government faces Tory backlash

Ruth Davidson amongst critics of privatisation plan

The UK Government is facing a backlash from opposition and Tory politicians over the privatisation of Channel 4.

Angus Robertson, Scotland's Cabinet Secretary for Culture, said the "unnecessary and ill-conceived plan strikes a blow at the heart of public sector broadcasting at a time when it has shown beyond measure its value during the pandemic".

Tory peer Ruth Davidson, the former leader of the Scottish Conservatives, called it "the opposite of levelling up".

Labour's shadow culture secretary Lucy Powell said the move "makes absolutely no sense" and "will cost jobs and opportunities in the North and Yorkshire, and hit the wider British creative economy".

And in an urgent debate in the House of Lords, Lib Dem peer Lord McNally hit out at the lack of publication of the consultation on the proposed sale six months after its completion. He suggested the government should be "ashamed that this extraordinarily well-run company is being dealt with in this way" and branded the decision by culture secretary Nadine Dorries "shabby" and "made in an appalling way while the House of Commons in recess".

Dorries has said that government ownership is "holding Channel 4 back".

Plans for the sale will be included in the Queen's Speech in May and the proceeds will be used for a "creative dividend", which will be invested in independent production companies and other parts of the TV sector.

The publicly-owned broadcaster was founded by the Conservative government under Margaret Thatcher in 1982, with a remit to cater for under-served audiences, and uses advertising to fund its activities.

Its output has included recent hits such as Derry Girls and It's A Sin, which have received critical and popular acclaim.

The broadcaster said: "With over 60,000 submissions to the government's public consultation, it is disappointing that today's announcement has been made without recognising the significant public interest concerns which have been raised."

Dorries said she wants Channel 4 to retain "a cherished place in British life" but privatisation would help it compete against streaming giants like Netflix and Amazon. She said: "A change of ownership will give Channel 4 the tools and freedom to flourish and thrive as a public service broadcaster long into the future."

But Jeremy Hunt and Damian Green are amongst the high-profile Tories to condemn the move, prompting speculation about whether it can be carried through. Strong resistance is expected in the Lords.

Davidson said the TV mainstay is "one of the reasons we have such a thriving sector in places like Glasgow".

In a Scottish Government statement, Robertson said the sale is "not the way to secure Channel 4's continue success and contribution to the UK's creative industries".

He went on: "This will be disappointing news to the independent production sector which has flourished with Channel 4's help, including £200m for Scottish-based productions and support for 400 jobs since 2007.

"In Scotland, this decision comes at the very time that the channel has strengthened its content spend, investment and links to Scottish creative businesses through its creative hub in Glasgow with high-value drama series, such as Screw filmed at Kelvin Hall."

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