The speech made by Rachel Hopkins, the Labour MP for Luton South, in the House of Commons on 14 June 2022.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Solihull (Julian Knight).
“Channel 4’s public service model and remit, which are so vital to the continued strength of the UK’s broadcasting ecology, would not be best served by privatisation”.
Those are not my words, but those of the then Conservative Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport only five years ago. They still represent a wide consensus among the public: when the Government’s consultation last year essentially asked respondents whether they thought Channel 4 should be privatised, 91% said no and only 2% said yes.
The case for the continued public ownership of Channel 4 is overwhelming. It does not cost the taxpayer a single penny. It invests 100% of its revenue back into the channel to provide entertainment for the public, good jobs in communities and opportunities for the UK’s fast-growing creative industries. Its unique remit has allowed it to directly invest more than £1 billion into the UK’s independent production sector and work with 300 smaller production companies every year. Channel 4’s commissioning has boosted local economies across the country; it spends more with production companies in the nations and regions than any other public service broadcaster, and more than 50% of its commissioning budget is allocated to production companies outside London.
I remember Channel 4 first coming to our screens in 1982. It was an exciting prospect. It was fitting that its first show was produced by a regional production company, Yorkshire Television—it was none other than teatime favourite “Countdown”. Over nearly 40 years, Channel 4 has pioneered representation and diversity and showcased them to audiences across the UK and the world. Its focus on alternative voices and cutting-edge storytelling has created TV firsts such as the first female same-sex kiss aired before 9 pm, which was on “Brookside” in 1994. Recently, we have seen “It’s a Sin”, “Derry Girls” and a favourite of mine, “The Lateish Show with Mo Gilligan”, all brilliant examples of what a publicly owned Channel 4 can still create.
Maintaining our world-class reputation in TV production and film-making is critical to our global Britain ambitions, but let us be frank about what the Conservative Government’s decision tells us: they are not serious about distributing economic growth, supporting small and medium-sized businesses or backing the UK creative industries on the global stage. As the National Union of Journalists has put it:
“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.”
The Government’s hollow justification for a change in ownership does not stand up to scrutiny. Channel 4 is thriving. It is the UK’s largest streaming service—nearly a third more than Netflix in 2020—while Netflix’s share prices have plummeted.
The benefits of a publicly owned Channel 4 are clear and obvious for all to see, and selling it off is an ideological act of vandalism. This ideologically driven attack on the future of our creative industries and on the principle of having public service broadcasters will create a Channel 4 that is focused merely on delivering profits to shareholders and not on creating diverse and distinctive content for the public. Privatisation would end the unique rights model that supports independent companies to grow. It would also threaten the future of Film4, which spends more on British film than any other UK broadcaster, investing £25 million annually in feature films that nurture diverse and new talent. This has created films such as “Trainspotting”, “Slumdog Millionaire” and “12 Years a Slave” and has collectively to date won 37 Academy Awards and 84 BAFTAs.
As well as the likelihood of losing the alternative, gritty, brave content we all love, the economic damage across the country would be substantial. As we have heard, EY analysis has found that £2 billion-worth of Channel 4’s contribution to the creative economy in the regions would be lost if the channel were privatised, and there would be a 40% decline in the regional supply chain contribution and a 35% decline in jobs supported in the nations and regions.
I also want to make the point that the timing of the announcement is curious. As has been mentioned, this proposal was not in the Government’s manifesto. The Government have prioritised selling off a proud British institution over tackling the cost of living crisis that is ravaging communities across the country. I look forward to the Minister telling the House in her wind-up speech why the Government are prioritising selling off Channel 4 over bringing down food, energy and fuel bills. How will selling off Channel 4 help my constituents to pay their bills? Or is this really a petty vendetta against a broadcaster whose news content the Conservatives do not like?
Unlike the Conservative party, Labour is proud of our great British broadcasters. We recognise the power of projecting British culture, values and creative excellence across the world in helping our country to prosper. If it were not for Channel 4, my younger self would not have discovered great new music by watching “The Tube”, discovered brilliant comedy such as “Father Ted” or felt represented by working-class drama such as “This is England”. Now, my middle-aged self would not be enjoying some of the best political commentary from the good people of “Gogglebox” or “The Last Leg”. Pushing forward with privatisation represents a complete disregard for the concerns of the creative industries and the public. Channel 4 ain’t broke.