NUJ response to UK government White paper on broadcasting
Paul Siegert, NUJ national broadcasting organiser, said: “It’s hard to see any justification for privatising Channel Four other than ideology. Channel 4 has achieved what it was asked to do and has proved a hit with viewers."
Channel 4's remit is to be innovative and edgy and appeal to younger audiences – and according to the broadcasting watchdog Ofcom is doing it very well. Despite the hit to advertising spend during the pandemic it has reported a record £74m pre-tax surplus. It has moved its headquarters out to Leeds to make it more reflective of UK life. It is boosting investment in its video-on-demand service All 4.
Ministers say it needs to compete with Netflix and Disney+ – but the whole point is that it doesn't. Its job is to provide the sort of UK programming that a US-owned broadcasting behemoth has no interest in producing. Its job to nurture home-grown new stars from Bradford to Brixham. Is a new buyer – probably non-UK based – working in a for-profit model really going to invest in edgy productions and support the award-winning, hour-long Channel 4 News? Industry experts say no. The money its sale will raise will be peanuts for the government. Privatisation of Channel 4 makes no sense on any level.
Viewers of the broadcaster's traditional television channels and its catch-up service, All 4, grew by 2 per cent and 26 per cent respectively last year, and by 4 per cent and 40 per cent in the first half of this year. The broadcaster is on track to break £1bn in revenues for the first time this year.
Paul Siegert, NUJ national broadcasting organiser, said:
"It's hard to see any justification for privatising Channel Four other than ideology. Channel 4 has achieved what it was asked to do and has proved a hit with viewers. So, if it isn't broke, why is the government proposing the fix of privatising it? Four years ago the government said it would continue to be owned by the public and it should honour that promise."
The government is right, however, to explore ways to set the same basic rules for video-on-demand services as traditional broadcasters, in terms of causing harm and offence, hatred and abuse, impartiality, accuracy, protection of under-18s, and privacy.
The NUJ also supports proposals to ensure public service broadcasters are given sufficient visibility and prominence on online platforms, smart TV guides and all broadcasting platforms to enable viewers to find and watch original and high-quality British programmes.
In its White paper, the government should be looking at ways to increase media plurality and support public service broadcasting in the UK, which has high levels of trust, to allow these stations to continue to provide the engine of innovation, nurture UK talent, support independent programme makers, and provide training to the creative industry.