Labour Won’t Commit to Re-Nationalising Channel 4

Overnight reactions to Channel 4’s impending privatisation have turned out as expected, with the likes of Claudia Webbe and Alastair Campbell calling the move “the seedbed of fascism” and “right out of the Orban playbook“, because the first sign of fascism is obviously privatising a state-owned broadcaster. Meanwhile sounder minds recognise the obvious benefits of allowing a British export to flourish in the free market…

Currently the state sets the regulatory framework, has a veto on the board’s membership – which it exercised last year – sets the financial parameters and sets the terms of operation. So in a very real sense the state does currently control the channel. Like clockwork, the Labour front bench was in front of the cameras this morning to condemn the move without promising to undo it. Appearing on the Today programme, Shadow Culture Secretary Lucy Powell slammed the decision as “disappointing” and “pointless“, yet refused to confirm if Labour would commit to re-nationalisation:

“Well look, we’re some way off from that right now… I mean it’s very disappointing that yet again they’ve made this announcement by tweet… I’ve not written our manifesto commitment on it overnight… look it’s going to be a very long, drawn out, difficult process because there are many people opposed on their own side of the Conservative Party on this.”

People are taking a stance on the channel based on their attitude towards Channel 4 News – which is produced by ITN – with a left-leaning worldview which appeals to Guardian readers. That need not change once it is privatised. If, however, it wants to grow and compete with global streaming companies now operating in Britain, it will need access to capital. Taxpayers cannot be asked to provide risk capital. It will continue flat-lining as a small player if it stays in state hands.

Others have a clear-eyed view of the decision, with Institute of Economic Affairs director-general Mark Littlewood saying “there is now such a welcome diversity in television output that it makes no sense to divide TV into public sector and commercial sector”, and the Taxpayers’ Alliance’s Darwin Friend agreeing the sale “will benefit not just viewers but the broadcaster itself, which can become a truly independent and competitive station.” The Adam Smith Institute’s Emily Fielder adds that “emancipating it from state ownership would allow it to compete effectively with streaming services”. If every TV licence holder gets shares in a people’s privatisation of Channel 4, the public would really own it…

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