Channel 4 hits out at Government over damage caused by privatisation uncertainty

Chairman and chief executive call on John Whittingdale to explain what he is up to over the numerous leaks regarding a potential sell-off

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Channel 4’s chief executive and its new chairman have hit out at the Government for creating uncertainty over the broadcaster’s future.

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The broadcaster’s new chair Charles Gurassa and chief executive David Abraham used today’s launch of the organisation’s annual report to attack the department of Culture, Media and Sport for floating the idea of privatising – or part-privatising – the broadcaster.

Gurassa pointedly said that he had not been approached by Government officials over the plans which have been the subject of numerous Whitehall leaks over the last year.

Channel 4 is a publicly-owned advertising-funded broadcaster that ploughs all it profits back into its content. If it is privatised it would be answerable to shareholders and would be expected to generate revenue for shareholders in a move that critics say would detract from the distinctiveness of its output.

Today it was reported that the Government has backed off from a full privatisation of the broadcaster but is looking at other options including the sale of a minority stake to a “strategic partner” such as BT.

It has also emerged that culture secretary John Whittingdale is looking again at moving Channel 4’s headquarters from London to Birmingham or Manchester to create a “northern powerhouse”.

However Gurassa said he had not been notified about any of the current thinking within Whitehall and did not even know what part-privatisation would mean for the broadcaster: “I don’t know what it means so I cannot comment on what the implications might be. I think it is very difficult to comment on something that is undefined.

“We have got no plans to meet with the Government soon. But we remain always available to provide them with information.”

Gurassa added that the “prolonged uncertainty” was “not helpful”, adding: “It’s not good for our staff, it’s not good for our business market, its not good for our advertisers.”

Abraham echoed his comments, adding: “We are running an organisation here but the lack of structure and the lack of feedback is quite a distraction. I would very much hope that our team and our staff and all of our creative partners can get on with our jobs at some point.”

Abraham appeared lukewarm on the idea of galvanising public opinion about a possible sell off. Asked by RadioTimes.com whether he would like to see a public outcry – in the same manner of those who defended the BBC from Government attacks most recently at the BAFTAs – he said that the broadcaster and its customers have made their views clear

He said: “The people who pay the bills, the advertisers, have made their views very clear that they value the distinctiveness of Channel 4, they value the airtime proposition that we offer to them.”

At today’s launch C4 reported record revenues of almost £1bn and the first audience growth at its main channel in a decade.

Its report showed that it invested £455m in original programming in 2015, with 53% of money spent outside the M25 over the period January to December 2015.

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The Channel generated revenues of £979m over the period.