Longer online version; see re-sub-edited PDF

Fight Channel 4 privatisation!

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CHANNEL 4 is under threat of privatisation. The TV channel is publicly owned – and therefore robustly regulated. It has a public service obligation to provide a certain amount of news coverage, for example. But it isn't financed from the public purse. Its revenue comes from advertising.

No Channel 4 productions is in-house. All the work Channel 4 commissions is carried out by independent production companies – an arrangement from which freelances probably benefit.

This hasn't stopped the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport - Nadine Dorries - pushing ahead with her plan to privatise Channel 4. Dorries seemed to erroneously believe that Channel 4 was financed from "public money". Appearing before a Parliamentary select committee, she asserted that "just because it's in receipt of public money [it doesn't mean] we should never audit the future of Channel 4". Damien Green MP, a startled Select Committee member, interrupted Dorries to correct her: Channel 4 is "not like the BBC, it's not in receipt of licence fee money".

Since then, Dorries has asserted that Channel 5 has successfully been privatised. It has not. It has changed hands, but it has always been privately owned, and much less regulated than Channel 4. Dorries was also recently reported to have asked representatives of Microsoft if they were "going to get rid of algorithms" - as if Microsoft somehow controlled the entire internet and all the code behind it and - a sub-editor adds - as if it didn't make its fortune licensing the algorithms on which this was edited.

Dorries has Tweeted the the rationale for privatising the channel is that "government ownership is holding Channel 4 back from competing against streaming giants like Netflix and Amazon." While Channel 4 is currently in profit, Netflix in mid-April announced net losses for the first time in ten years, with staff lay-offs following. So the free-market model in which Channel 4 is supposed to benefit from competing isn't doing too well itself.

A consultation on the privatisation of Channel 4 has already closed. Many commentators see the threat to privatise Channel 4 as a response to frequent embarrassing revelations by Channel 4 News and the Channel 4 documentary series Dispatches on government corruption, misconduct or ineptitude. Channel 4 News is produced by the thoroughly private Independent Television News (ITN), which makes some Dispatches programmes alongside other equally-private companies such as October Films, Blakeway and Nine Lives Media.

The NUJ will fight to oppose the privatisation of Channel 4, said its Assistant General Secretary Seamus Dooley in a statement. He added that "the NUJ will strongly oppose this dangerous move and will be seeking cross-party support for our campaign."

The NUJ has begun a campaign to save Channel 4. It is asking members to write to their MP on the issue, urging that the MP signs Early Day Motion 164 on protecting Channel 4 as a public service broadcaster. There is a petition to stop the privatisation of Channel 4 here. At the time of writing it had over 440,000 signatures.