The privatization of Channel 4 is a solution to the problem

The screenwriter is the founder of Wonderhood Studios and is a former CEO of Channel 4

Legislation is easier to declare than to enforce, and the recently proposed privatization of Channel 4 will prove it.

A remarkable amount of professional effort is currently wasted on developing a solution in search of a problem: the sale of a commercially funded but state-owned operator. To begin with, there is a problem with consistency: ministers expect MEPs to vote blindly on the sale principle, without giving any details about the impact of the different results on viewers, jobs and the long-term integrity of UK free airtime.

Despite the mass of reasonable alternative plan (What MPs are deprived of the opportunity to debate), the board and management of Channel 4 are accused of burying their heads in the sand. Meanwhile, a set of criteria for a successful bidder is not visible. Decisions of this magnitude should not be made with so little thought about how value is created or destroyed for the nation.

There is another problem. How investors can value reasonably Channel 4 today without a clear idea of ​​the obligations that come with his future license? The government is looking for the highest bid price, but also hopes the channel will continue to provide at least as many public service (loss) programs. Good luck with this kind of magical thinking in the City.

Ministers also say the proceeds will go to a one-off dividend for the creative industries. Again, this is not clear. And it is not possible to compare an undisclosed figure with the future contribution of Channel 4, which remains in the public domain.

The reality is that Channel 4, responsible to banks, private equity or foreign owners, will be obliged to maximize profits. It will seek efficiency that will inevitably involve, over time, reducing its obligations as a public service broadcaster – no matter what promises are made in the beginning.

It is worth noting that the sale of a foreign media empire to a national broadcaster will be banned for reasons of public interest in many Western countries, including the United States. Why are you in a hurry to whip the family silver?

The new owner will be allowed to do most of Channel 4’s internal programs. Under the current system, hundreds of smaller companies take advantage of the risks Channel 4 has to take on by working with them. And ministers are silent about the future of Film 4, which for decades has helped uncover new stitches of British film talent, including Steve McQueen and Danny Boyle. At risk is a key pillar supporting the UK’s ability to confidently tell stories that are important to us.

The government has indicated that it would welcome offers from ITV, Sky and Channel 5 to take over Channel 4, but remains silent on the effects on competition. According to Phil Smith, Director-General of ISBA, the body representing British advertisers: “It is remarkable that ministers seem pleased with the outcome, which could ensure excessive dominance in a market that no longer has transparency.”

Ministers say Channel 4 remains in public ownership and needs the finances “No longer be taken over by a grandmother in Southend or Stockport”. But Channel 4’s assets come from the revenues of its trading partnerships, not from the taxpayer.

MEPs need to ask whether the country’s optimism about the “release” of Channel 4 is justified. from the last 40 years of innovation. The Channel 4 model proved to be sustainable. Civil servants, bankers and lawyers must have the right to turn their attention elsewhere to something broken that really needs to be fixed.

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