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David Puttnam

Channel 4 Privatisation debate

Channel 4 Privatisation debate

03 December, 2015

"Channel 4's unique remit must be cherished"

David Puttnam contributes to the debate on whether Channel 4 should be privatised

In 1982, the then home secretary, William Whitelaw, took parliament through the unique vision that became Channel 4. Since then, it has been one of the cornerstones of the UK’s creative industries and a fundamental pillar of the UK’s public broadcasting system. 

From Brookside to Gogglebox, it has consistently broken new ground. And where it has led, others have followed. The ability of the channel to take risks is based on a funding structure that draws no money from the public purse, yet is protected from the pressure of shareholders seeking short-term returns.

Putting the channel into private hands would utterly change its nature and, ultimately, its contribution to the vitality of the nation’s creative industries. 

No commercial investor would be likely to support Channel 4 News in its current form. 

The reality is that the channel only becomes a serious commercial proposition if its remit is diluted. Its support of innovation and risk-taking would, over time, become severely diminished. 

The dismemberment of the UK’s regional television system provides a cautionary tale. If it teaches us anything, it’s that promises would be made – then broken – and vital obligations chipped away, resulting in something indistinguishable from Channel 5, which cannot possibly be in the interest of the broad televisual audience.

I believe it’s important that all those who care for the future of public-service broadcasting raise their voice in persuading the government that privatisation could only do irreparable damage to the ecology that underpins the UK’s extraordinarily successful creative sector.

Written by David Puttnam 

Source: Campaign Magazine