Dan Hannan Reviews Channel 4’s So-Called ‘Cultural Gems’ in the Lords

The reaction to Monday night’s Channel 4 announcement began yesterday as pearl-clutching before quickly descending into accusations of fascism on the part of the government. A key tenet of fascism being media independence from the state…

One immediate reaction from metropolitan luvvies is that the outrage is partly because Channel 4 is a unique broadcaster that focuses on avant-garde social issues – “C4 has been the lifeblood of UK diversity” as Adil Ray said – and privatising it will prevent such programmes for Britain’s underrepresented minority groups from being made.

Thankfully, Dan Hannan was on hand in the Lords to fact check this three-decade old misty-eyed view of the channel. By reading out that particular day’s programming schedule:

“My Lords, ever since the announcement was made, we have been hearing about all these rare cultural gems which are made possible by the unique way in which Channel 4 is financed and which somehow would not be possible in a red in tooth and claw jungle capitalism. So I have just been looking at what the programming is now. With permission, I will tell your Lordships’ House: “Kitchen Nightmares”, “Undercover Boss”, “Steph’s Packed Lunch”, “Countdown”, “A Place in the Sun”, “A New Life in the Sun” and “Sun, Sea and Selling Houses”. Is it really credible to say that we are defending something which could not be provided by the private sector?”

Lord Parkinson diplomatically swerved Hannan’s pejorative listings review, partly responding in Latin to suggest the minister may not be too familiar with Channel 4’s offerings. If anyone’s interested, today you can look forward to three episodes of Frasier, the exact same cooking and undercover boss programmes as yesterday, Countdown, three hours of people buying homes abroad, the Simpsons, Hollyoaks and Naked Attraction at 10pm. Netflix could only dream of such a line-up…

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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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Government Confirms Channel 4 Privatisation

Breaking news as the privatisation of Channel 4 is going ahead, according to a government source. In an email to Channel 4 staff this evening, Chief Executive Alex Mahon claimed that in the “last hour” she had been informed Nadine Dorries will be shortly announcing the decision to sell the broadcaster. Confirming the news, a government source says the sale will go ahead as part of a package of reforms to modernise and sustain the UK’s public service broadcasting sector. 

Although, in the words of the government, Channel 4 is currently performing well, they believe state ownership is holding it back in comparison to its privatised competition, such as Netflix. Privatisation will allow them to borrow money and raise private sector investment:

“C4 is a great business with a strong brand built around it being creative, innovative and distinctive but a change of ownership will remove its straightjacket, giving C4 the freedom to innovate and grow so it can flourish and thrive long into the future and support the whole of the UK creative industries.”

They’re keen to emphasise Channel 4 will remain a public service broadcaster, just like ITV.

Cash from the sale will be reinvested on a “creative dividend”*, putting money into independent production and “levelling up wider creative skills”. *Presumably Peter Mannion will be charging DCMS for that one…

We don’t know yet what format the privatisation of Channel 4 will take. If the government has any sense it will go for a people’s privatisation and sell the shares directly to the public at a discount with preference given to allocating to applicants for smaller shareholdings. Though given Rupert Murdoch is launching his new TalkTV channel, he might fancy a terrestrial broadcast vehicle for it…

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Channel 4’s Diverse New Presenting Line-Up

Jon Snow having left the building, Channel 4 News has revealed its new presenting lineup, and what a team it is: Krishnan-Guru Murthy (Hertford College, Oxford) takes over as lead anchor, while Cathy Newman (Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford) is being promoted to ‘investigations editor’ as a consolation prize. Matt Frei (St Peter’s College, Oxford) will be the new chief foreign presenter. Say what you like it’s certainly a diverse array of Oxford colleges…

Earlier this week, the BBC promised to hire a more working class and socially diverse workforce over the next few years, after Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries slammed the broadcaster for its “snobbish approach” to recruitment. Maybe she needs to put a phone call into Channel 4’s elitists as well… 

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Piers Corbyn: Anti-Starmer Mob Not Motivated by PM

A rare inciteful Channel 4 report last night as the news went to talk to the anti-vaxxer nutters who swarmed Sir Keir on Monday night. The weaponising of the issue as yet another stick to beat Boris with by Labour figures and anti-Boris MPs, aided and abetted by media allies doesn’t really stand up to scrutiny. The PM’s words did not incite the mob, the anti-vaxxers very own pied piper, Piers Corbyn, told viewers the group’s accusations were nothing to do with the PM’s words:

“They already believed it… I would say people know it already and they’d just think ‘Boris is saying this to get out of a problem of his own’.”

Another protestor, Owen, accused “many people in power” – including government ministers – of being paedophiles.  Guido can’t imagine the opposition will be able to accuse the PM of seeding that particular claim among the nutters…

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Gogglebox on Hancock: “I’m Almost Finding him a Bit Sexy”

The vaccine rollout isn’t the only thing looking up for Matt Hancock. In the latest episode of Channel 4’s Googlebox, the Home Secretary’s latest Marr appearance went down a storm with viewers, as he cockily batted away questioning over the timing of India being added to the red list. He’s already 33/1 for next PM – might his odds improve in light of this showing?

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