Campaigners celebrate Channel 4’s 40th birthday with call for privatisation to be stopped

Campaigners have delivered giant birthday cards to the broadcaster's headquarters

Campaigners handing in a birthday card to Channel 4

Broadcaster Channel 4 was founded 40 years ago today. To celebrate, campaigners have gathered outside its offices in both Leeds and London to deliver giant birthday cards and call for the broadcaster to be kept in public hands.

The birthday cards feature the logos of over 40 independent production companies, all of which have signed up to the Channel 4 Ain’t Broke coalition launched earlier this year. Among those gathering in both London and Leeds were Liberal Democrat Culture Spokesperson Jamie Stone MP, Leeds City Council Leader James Lewis and the Conservative MP Peter Bottomley. The actions were organised by anti-privatisation campaign group We Own It and the creative workers’ union Equity.

Channel 4 is currently a publicly owned broadcaster but it does not receive public funding. Instead, it is funded through commercial advertising. The former culture secretary Nadine Dorries was widely derided for appearing not to understand this basic element of the broadcaster’s structure – despite being in charge of its future at the time.

Earlier this year, the then culture secretary Nadine Dorries confirmed she intended to go ahead with touted plans to privatise Channel 4. The move has been met with fierce opposition and the new culture secretary Michelle Donelan has since said “we do need to re-examine the business case” for privatisation.

There is also evidence that senior Tories are turning against the proposals. The international development minister Andrew Mitchell has said that both he and the chancellor Jeremy Hunt are opposed to he broadcaster being sold off.

Stephen Cottrell, the Archbishop of York, was among those supporting the actions this morning. He said, “To put it simply, there is nothing quite like Channel 4. For 40 years it has been a hugely innovative and successful broadcaster with a unique place in the creative British broadcasting economy.

“In many areas, Channel 4 pioneers a broad diversity of views and voices. It supports UK regions by moving beyond regional accents to the other things that shape us culturally and ethically, enabling us to appreciate our own national diversity and at the same time creating greater coherence and commitment to each other within that diversity. I believe that to privatise the broadcaster would not only be to compromise it but to be in danger of destroying it.”

The writer behind The Thick of It, Veep and The Death of Stalin, Armando Iannucci has been a vocal opponent of the proposed sale of Channel 4. He said, “As we reach Channel 4’s 40th birthday, it’s clearer than ever that it’s been both a creative and economic success story. It has spurred innovation, allowed new businesses to spring up across the country, and invested in jobs and training in areas and communities that TV and film have too often left behind. It has only been able to do that because of its unique operational model: publicly owned but commercially funded. Channel 4 was set up under Margaret Thatcher. She dismissed plans to privatise it: so should today’s leaders.”

Tracy Brabin, the mayor of West Yorkshire, has come out in support of the campaign and the action in Leeds. She said, “As Channel 4 turns 40, it’s my absolute pleasure to wish it a ‘happy birthday’ on behalf of its new neighbours – the people of West Yorkshire. It’s had an amazing year. 55% of all spend in the nations and regions. 400 roles outside London. 1.5 billion views on All 4. Its strongest ever financial performance to date. And all because of its unique mandate to the public.

Our talented creatives are grateful for the jobs, our indie companies are grateful for the work, and our audiences are grateful for the high quality programming it always delivers. Privatisation would threaten all of this. I stand shoulder to shoulder with Equity in the fight to keep Channel 4 public and keep it in Leeds. It was smart to settle in West Yorkshire, and I’d encourage any person or business – no matter their age – to the same.”

Chris Jarvis is head of strategy and development at Left Foot Forward

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