There is no plan to sell Channel 4 – at least, no plan that would keep it safe

Whatever options the government may be considering for privatisation, none of them look likely to preserve it as a public-service force for good

It’s that old “no plans” gambit again. As in “the government has no plans to sell Channel 4”, the mantra of two weeks ago. It was accurate enough, in a pin-dancing way, at the precise moment of utterance, of course. The government – as a long-lens shot of a confidential document reveals – is currently deciding which plan to choose for sell-off purposes (unless George Osborne turns out to have found a Chinese buyer over egg foo yong). But rushed, debate-starved deals need opening up.

Channel 4 is not always the bold, free-thinking contender it founders set out to build more than three decades ago. More Kirstie and Phil talk embarrassing bodies with Alan Carr before the 2.30 from Wincanton. But the idea of a not-for-profit public service channel, primed to grow independent production resources, remains potent. So do good deeds in a bad world like Channel 4 News and Dispatches. Alternative voices always welcome.

How can the chancellor and culture secretary keep that legacy safe? Profit will slash independent production resources. Commercial operation is bound to drain the channel’s distinctiveness. Too many conditions to the sale must reduce the asking price. No wonder there isn’t “a plan” just yet.

And, alas, the best plan of the lot – putting C4 in a big, devolved basket alongside the BBC so that ads and subscription money can help grow the sector and make sense of its targeting – is the ringfencing notion that would raise the biggest howl of the lot. You could sort out immediate BBC finances, differentiate channels, add iPlayer lustre along that path. Except that, like too many minds, it’s closed.

■ Whatever happened to those million-pound regulatory fines that make errant media companies shiver? Forget London: welcome to Madrid, where Mediaset Spain, that nation’s most popular TV group, has been fined a total of €20.6m for advertising and other transgressions over the past three years – including 42 separate fines this year alone. A world record? Perhaps Diego Costa could do the maths while he sits out his own red card ban.

Contributor

Peter Preston

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
The only thing Channel 4 needs to be saved from is privatisation
John Whittingdale’s attempt to find a ‘model to sustain’ the broadcaster flies in the face of a darkening financial outlook for Big media

Peter Preston

01, May, 2016 @8:00 AM

Article image
Channel 4 needs Bake Off, if only to pay the bills
However much of a shock the BBC’s loss may be, what would we think of a publicly funded C4 that never competed for shows and always made a loss?

Peter Preston

18, Sep, 2016 @6:00 AM

Article image
Female channel bosses have earned top billing
Amid the controversy and pay gaps exposed by the BBC’s salary disclosures, two highly skilled and talented women have risen to the top of the broadcasting industry

Peter Preston

23, Jul, 2017 @6:00 AM

Article image
Compelling viewing on Channel 4 as TV bosses take sides on privatisation
A new chairman is about to be appointed as battle lines are drawn over options for the broadcaster, writes Tara Conlan

Tara Conlan

16, Jan, 2016 @4:00 PM

Article image
New to Channel 4: a chairman who knows all about flogging
Charles Gurassa has lots of experience, none of it in TV. But strangely, he is good at selling things…

Peter Preston

31, Jan, 2016 @9:00 AM

Article image
Tarantino will only shoot from the hip if he's got something to promote
Peter Preston: the Django Unchained director's lack of interest in the gun-control debate was typical of a broadcasting culture where marketing always seems to come first

Peter Preston

13, Jan, 2013 @12:04 AM

Article image
Channel 4 knows all about location, location, location…
And it knows that as a small, minority broadcaster, it must fight plans to move it out of London

Peter Preston

16, Jul, 2017 @6:00 AM

Article image
Selling off Channel 4 would be a dogmatic act of cultural vandalism | Vince Cable
MPs and lords alike must oppose any money-grubbing attempts to sell off a national asset

Vince Cable

09, Jan, 2016 @5:30 PM

Article image
Channel 4 chair criticises government’s ‘harmful’ privatisation plan
Charles Gurassa writes to Oliver Dowden to air concern over lack of transparency behind decision

Lucy Campbell

20, Jul, 2021 @7:56 PM

Article image
The Guardian view on privatising Channel 4: it makes no economic sense | Editorial
Editorial: The arguments put forward for selling the broadcaster don’t add up. The impetus is ideological – and wrong-headed

Editorial

23, Jun, 2021 @5:37 PM