United Kingdom

Ministers are set to reveal plans to privatise 'woke and struggling' Channel 4

Minister are this week expected to announce plans to privatise Channel 4 – after months of tensions between No 10 and executives at the television station over its struggling finances and allegedly ‘woke’ agenda.

Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden has concluded that the channel does not have a viable future unless an ‘alternative ownership model’ is explored.

The station, launched in 1982, is a Government-owned but commercially funded public service broadcaster, with a remit to broadcast ‘diverse, alternative and challenging programming that appeals to a younger audience’. 

Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden has concluded that the channel does not have a viable future unless an ‘alternative ownership model’ is explored

One example of such output was the much criticised spoof Queen’s Christmas Day speech, with jibes aimed at Harry and Meghan and Prince Andrew, which was branded ‘woke rubbish’, ‘disgusting’ and ‘mean-spirited’ by viewers.

A Government source said: ‘The world has changed since Channel 4 was set up. We need to examine whether moving it into private ownership and adapting its remit could help secure its future as a successful and sustainable public service broadcaster’.

The channel, whose current licence runs until 2024, was valued at £1 billion in 2016, but the value of free-to-air broadcasters since has fallen in the face of competition from streaming services and a drop in advertising spending.

Channel 4 bosses had hoped to stave off the sale by moving its headquarters to Leeds in 2019 – by the end of this year a third of its 900-strong workforce will be based outside London – but a source said: ‘We noticed that neither the CEO Alex Mahon or director of programming Ian Katz left their comfortable houses in the capital.’

The station, launched in 1982, is a Government-owned but commercially funded public service broadcaster

Tensions between the channel and the Government first flared in 2019 when its then-head of news, Dorothy Byrne, made a speech in which she described Boris Johnson as a ‘known liar’. 

Her words prompted fury within senior Tory circles over accusations of bias. Channel 4 is supposed to remain impartial, and the accusation was the catalyst in forcing relations between the channel and the Government to ‘rock bottom’, according to insiders.

It would be usual for Ms Byrne’s script to have been approved by Ms Mahon and Mr Katz.

Culture Minister John Whittingdale has been a long-standing supporter of a sale. 

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