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Dowden: Channel 4 remaining public would be ‘act of self harm’

Culture secretary to lay out reasoning behind Channel 4 privatisation in speech to RTS Cambridge Convention

UK culture secretary Oliver Dowden will lay out his reasoning for wanting to privatise Channel 4 at the RTS Cambridge Convention.

In a speech, Dowden will say to those who disagree that “standing still is not an option. In fact, it would be an act of self-harm.”

“Right now, Channel 4 is in a stable position. But I think too many people are fixated on Channel 4’s current situation. I’m much more concerned with its long-term future. And I believe that if Channel 4 wants to grow then at some point soon it will need cash. Without it, Channel 4 won’t have the money to invest in technology and programming, and it won’t be able to compete with the streaming giants,” Dowden will say.

He will tell the audience he believes the money should come from private investment rathet than the taxpayer: “It’s my strong position – as a point of principle – that I do not believe the borrowing of a commercial TV channel should be underwritten by a granny in Stockport or Southend. Instead, we can help it unlock that much-needed investment. And we can do so while protecting the parts of Channel 4 that none of us want to lose.”

Dowden is expected to argue that even if the broadcaster is taken private, its public service remit will remain. “If we do choose to proceed with a sale, I will make sure it remains subject to proper public service obligations,” he will tell the audience. “And I’d imagine those to include: a continued commitment to independent news and current affairs, to commissioning programming from the independent production sector, and that Channel 4 should continue to be representative of the entire nation.

“Let me be clear: I do not subscribe to the false binary choice between public service content and privatisation. We can have both. Channel 4 can continue to do what it does best: to fund original, risk-taking content – the kind you wouldn’t get anywhere else – and to showcase the very best of this country on free-to-view television.”

Dowden’s speech comes at the end of the government’s ten-week consultation on the future of Channel 4. It is expected to publish a broadcasting white paper in the autumn on the future of the UK’s  broadcasting landscape.