Ministers will formally launch the Channel 4 privatization process on Thursday – despite widespread opposition from the UK media industry, the broadcaster’s current management and a slew of Tory MPs.
The government insists the public broadcaster must be sold, but there are doubts whether they have the political support to pass the necessary legislation. Ministers will finally release the findings of a 60,000-person public consultation on the sale, with most comments expected to be against privatization.
The announcement will be made as part of a series of legislative measures that will change the UK media industry, including proposals to force broadcasters to create ‘typically British’ programs rather than shows set in ‘ non-specific locations, with international distribution, communicating in American English”.
Among the new media policies due to be confirmed in Parliament on Thursday are a series of reforms designed to boost the UK’s public service broadcasters – which include the BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Channel 5 and S4C.
The law on the television broadcasting of “crown jewels” sporting events could also be amended to cover streaming platforms. It could ensure Britons can watch all Olympic events for free, potentially undoing the recent rights deal with US media company Discovery, which cut BBC coverage and made viewers pay if they wanted to watch streams of all events.
Other measures, which will be detailed in a white paper on Thursday, include:
Regulate the content of streaming services such as Netflix or Amazon Prime Video, giving the public the opportunity to complain about offensive or inaccurate programs in the same way they can already complain about programs shown on television. Failure to comply could result in a fine of up to 5% of its earnings.
Legally require TV makers to prominently feature UK public service broadcasters on smart TV home screens.
Easing the rules on how broadcasters can fulfill their public service obligations, allowing them to meet the requirements by airing shows on more obscure channels.
Although public service TV broadcasters have largely welcomed the proposals, the UK radio industry has complained that the government has ignored their calls to force smart speaker devices such as Amazon’s Alexa to be obliged to distribute their services.
The biggest announcement by far is the decision to push ahead with the privatization of Channel 4. It operates as a public outlet which airs advertising and is required to reinvest its profits in new shows rather than handing over the money to shareholders.
At present, the broadcaster has an unusual business model devised by Margaret Thatcher’s government, which requires it to commission all its shows from independent companies – something the government is proposing to rip up as part of its reforms.
On Wednesday, Culture Minister Julia Lopez told the House of Commons the government had concluded that Channel 4 needed private ownership to survive, even though almost all of Britain’s media industry s publicly opposes this project.
She has also faced strong opposition from her own MPs over the proposal, with many worried about potential job losses in their constituencies if a new owner prioritizes profits over carbon emissions. small independent producers.
Sir Peter Bottomley, the father of the house, told the House of Commons on Wednesday: “Channel 4 is in the best shape it has been creatively and financially for decades.”
The Tory MP suggested ministers may have been offended by some of his media coverage – such as replacing Boris Johnson with a sculpture of melting ice in a debate on climate breakdown – and added that the “government could do better by leaving him alone”.
Damian Green, another former Tory minister, expressed ‘deep skepticism’ about the government’s privatization plans and said the media industry was united in ‘saying that Channel 4 is not broke and has not need to be repaired in this way”.