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In the UK, the privatization of the irreverent Channel 4 is causing a stir

Entrance to the Channel 4 headquarters in London on Tuesday, April 5, 2022.

Nadine Dorries, the British Minister of Culture, sparked controversy on Monday April 4, by announcing on Twitter the privatization of the Channel 4 channel, created forty years ago by the Thatcher government to boost national audiovisual production. “Channel 4 rightly holds a special place in our lives and I want it to stay that way. But I have come to the conclusion that staying in the public eye prevents the channel from competing against giants like Netflix or Amazon,” assured Dorries. “A change in shareholders will give Channel 4 the tools and the freedom to thrive while remaining a public service,” added this policy accustomed to controversy, but faithful to Boris Johnson.

A “white paper” should be published by the end of April, and a privatization bill included in the next legislative program of the Johnson government, made public on May 10. Downing Street would like to put the chain on sale before the next general election (in 2024) and hopes to make 1 billion pounds sterling (1.19 billion euros), according to national media. The announcement is only a half-surprise: the Johnson government had already mentioned its intentions on several occasions. But it was very badly received by the management of Channel-4, who said to themselves “disappointed” of the government decision, Tuesday, April 5, and warned that the privatization “will lead to a very long legislative process”.

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The government’s arguments do not convince the channel, the experts or the opposition parties. Channel 4 receives almost no public money: it is financed by advertising, which represents 90% of its income. It certainly suffered from the fall in the advertising market during the pandemic, but quickly got back on its feet, and it is already benefiting from the rebound, which allows it to free up new means to finance its programs.

“Cultural vandalism”

Above all, created by the “Iron Lady” to shake up the national audiovisual landscape – completely dominated by the BBC at the time, the channel has largely fulfilled its contract, by multiplying the creative programs that have become cult (“Peep Show”, “Big Brother”, “Goggle Box”) and by energizing an entire ecosystem of regional TV producers. Audacious, Channel 4 has been able to attract a young audience and tackle difficult themes, such as the civil war in Northern Ireland (with the series Derry Girls)AIDS (with the magnificent series It’s a Sin), and disability, by broadcasting the Paralympic Games events live in summer 2021. She also launched careers, such as that of Sacha Baron Cohen, thanks to the “Da Ali G Show” broadcast in 2003.

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