Rishi Sunak’s government has scrapped plans to privatise Channel 4 and the broadcaster will remain in public ownership, culture secretary Michelle Donelan has confirmed.
The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) said the decision was made following discussions with both C4 and the independent production sector.
The Media Bill will now include reforms allowing Channel 4 to make and own its content, and a new statutory duty on the board to “protect” the long-term sustainability of the business.
The broadcaster has also committed to increasing roles outside London and providing more opportunities for people from across the UK to gain experience in the sector as part of the package, DCMS announced.
The decision to take the broadcaster out of public ownership was announced under the tenure of Ms Donelan’s predecessor, Nadine Dorries, who led the move during Boris Johnson’s premiership.
The move follows a leaked letter Ms Donelan wrote to the PM, which revealed that she had recommended the government drops its plans to privatise Channel 4, saying there were “better ways to ensure C4’s sustainability”.
In a statement, Ms Donelan said: “Channel 4 is a British success story and a linchpin of our booming creative industries. After reviewing the business case and engaging with the relevant sectors, I have decided that Channel 4 should not be sold.”
She added: “The package will also safeguard the future of our world leading independent production sector. We will work closely with them to add new protections such as increasing the amount of content C4C must commission from independent producers.”
Welcoming the U-turn, Channel 4 chief executive Alex Mahon said the principle of public ownership was “now set for the foreseeable future”. She said the decision “allows us to be even more of a power in the digital world. I am personally delighted that we will be able to do more”.
Pact, the trade body for independent TV and film production companies, also welcomed the U-turn on the sell-off – but warned against new measures to allow it to create its own content. Unlike other broadcasters, everything Channel 4 currently airs is commissioned from external production companies.
“The decision to allow Channel 4 to produce its own in-house programming has the potential to achieve the same damaging outcome if there are not effective protections put in place,” said Pact chairwoman Jane Muirhead.
In her leaked letter, Ms Donelan said a U-turn on the sale plan “is likely to be popular” with MPs, “particularly those who raised concerns about the effect a sale”.
But Ms Dorries launched a bitter attack on Mr Sunak and his government over the U-turn – saying it would be “almost impossible to face the electorate” at the next general election.
The Johnson ally – who led the push to privatise Channel 4 in the hope of raising £2bn – tweeted: “Three years of a progressive Tory government being washed down the drain.”
The ex-culture secretary had argued that state ownership was “holding Channel 4 back from competing against streaming giants like Netflix and Amazon”.
Labour, strongly opposed to the sell-off on the basis it could cost jobs, said the decision announced by Ms Dorries in April last year, had been “a complete waste of everyone’s time”.
Jeremy Hunt and Tom Tugendhat, now in government, were among the senior Tories who had opposed the planned sale, warning it would cost the TV sector jobs in the north of England due to the loss of regional programming.
Channel 4 was created in 1982 by the Tory government of Margaret Thatcher. It is entirely funded by advertising, out of public ownership.