The simmering debate about UK government plans to privatize Channel 4 has boiled over into an all-out war.
Channel 4 chair Charles Gurassa has written a blistering letter to culture secretary Oliver Dowden, warning that the government’s ambition to sell the It’s A Sin and Great British Bake Off network could be “very harmful” to audiences and Britain’s creative economy.
Gurassa pulls no punches in his three-page missive, calling out the government’s lack of evidence for its view that Channel 4 will be better off in the hands of a new owner after it has been state-backed for nearly 40 years.Charles Gurassa Channel 4
“The lack of any detailed analysis, evidence or impact assessment leaves us as a Board deeply concerned given our statutory responsibility to deliver Channel 4’s remit,” Gurassa said in the letter, seen by Deadline.
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“Indeed, we have serious concerns that the consequences will be very harmful, both to the UK’s creative economy and to the choice and breadth of distinctive British-made content available to UK audiences.”
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Writing on behalf of Channel 4’s board, Gurassa took issue with government plans to unleash Channel 4 into production. The broadcaster is currently prohibited from making its own shows after being established by Margaret Thatcher to help grow the UK’s independent production sector.
He said ministers have failed to model how removing publisher-broadcaster obligations might impact a thriving sector, adding that a Channel 4 that makes its own programs could “damage a hugely successful part of the UK economy and put at risk thousands of jobs in our world leading creative sector.”
“We would also question if the desire to consolidate Channel 4 into a private-run enterprise is being prioritised ahead of the future delivery of Channel 4’s public purpose,” he continued, adding that Channel 4 is “thriving without any taxpayer support and in addition is delivering a unique range of public obligations and broader economic benefits.”
In his closing remarks, Gurassa said: “We are deeply concerned with the unsubstantiated assertion that a sale of Channel 4 is in the national interest. Without a transparent assessment of the implications of such a decision, the Government is in danger of sleepwalking into the irreversible and risky sale of an important, successful, and much-loved, British institution.”
His intervention comes as the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport carries out a 10-week consultation on Channel 4’s future, inviting views from across the industry. Dowden has previously said that a private Channel 4 could be “better for the broadcaster, and better for the country.”
A government source said: “The Channel 4 model is facing increasing pressure from competition for viewers from high spending streaming giants and growing pressure on the advertising revenue on which it solely depends. We’re looking at reform to protect Channel 4’s long term future so it can continue serving audiences with great public service content for decades to come.”