Alex Mahon talks privatisation and the future of Channel 4

Session chair Amol Rajan: Did you interpret the new culture secretary saying that she is re-examining the business case for privatisation as implying that she and Prime Minister Liz Truss are not as committed to privatisation as their predecessors? 

Alex Mahon: We’re in discussion with the DCMS about where they want to end up and what the options are. I imagine they’ll look at the things that I like: facts, data and evidence. Then we’ll see what the coming weeks and months hold as they think about that. 

Channel 4 privatisation gets the green light

Channel 4’s national headquarters in Leeds (Credit: Channel 4)

In a string of tweets, the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, Nadine Dorries, announced on 4 April 2022 the privatisation of Channel 4. This policy will be part of a media bill to be announced in next month’s Queen’s Speech. When that bill reaches the top of the agenda, it will eventually kick off a legislative process via the House of Commons and the House of Lords designed to end the creation of Margaret Thatcher’s Government 40 years ago this November. 

Channel 4: Stay public – or go private?

Few broadcasting controversies generate as much heat as the vexed topic of selling off Channel 4 – and so it proved at an engaging RTS debate held late last month, “Levelling up: How much could privatisation change Channel 4’s remit?”.

The remit has evolved over time. Since the 2003 Communications Act, the broadcaster’s remit has been largely voluntary. David Elstein, the former Thames, Sky and Channel 5 executive, provocatively claimed that the remit is nowadays “mostly mythical."

Levelling up: How much could privatisation change Channel 4’s remit?

As the broadcaster continues to expand its presence and role outside of London, with a focus on Leeds, Bristol, Glasgow and Birmingham; there are concerns that progress in on and off-screen representation and the wider economic benefits of this policy will be lost if privatisation goes ahead. Meanwhile others argue that ' levelling up' should not be the responsibility of a broadcaster, but of government, regardless of the ownership model.


David Elstein, former Chief Executive, Channel 5

Privatising Channel 4 is back on the agenda

Credit: Channel 4

On 18 November 1996, Hansard noted a parliamentary question from John Whittingdale, MP for Maldon: “Will my Hon Friend congratulate Channel 4 on its success in avoiding recourse to the ‘safety net’ and on making a profit last year of £128m? Does that not demonstrate that it is possible for Channel 4 to meet its remit and to operate commercially? Will he therefore consider its privatisation at the first opportunity?”