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Programme-makers, unions and campaigners have warned the government that any privatisation of Channel 4 would irreparably damage an independent production sector already battered by the covid-19 pandemic.

As culture secretary Oliver Dowden confirms a consultation on the broadcaster's fundijng model, David Attenborough is among those lending his name to a letter asking him what has changed in the four years since his predecessor Karen Bradley ruled out privatisation on the grounds that C4’s remit and support is “vitally important” to the indie sector and that the broadcaster is best placed to continue to do this if it remains in public hands.

The letter, written by Pat Younge, the former BBC TV chief creative officer who now runs Cardiff Productions and chairs lobbying group British Broadcasting Challenge, calls for full transparency around the government’s decision making, including publication of meeting agendas and the names of any organisations and individuals presenting the case for privatisation.

“Privatisation of Channel 4 is such a major decision with far-reaching consequences for the channel’s remit, the jobs it supports across the UK and for the whole UK PSB and production ecology,” the letter states.

The other signatures on the letter come from journalist and film-maker Mobeen Azhar, producer Tracey Scoffield, former BBC Trust chair Sir Michael Lyons and academics Parick Barwise and Simukai Chigudu.

'Catalyst for generations of entrepreneurs'

Meanwhile, Pact chief executive John McVay has championed C4 as a “catalyst for generations of entrepreneurs” that supports the British economy by reinvesting its profits in domestic producers that make diverse shows for the UK and international markets.

He said: “C4 has played a critical role in the UK’s broadcasting ecology as a publisher/broadcaster which has invested in hundreds of independent production companies over the nearly 40 years of its existence, enabling and improving access, skills, international activity and diversity. 

“The government’s plans to sell off C4 will damage small businesses across the UK at a time when they are recovering from the pandemic and rebuilding their businesses. The current Government’s thesis that bigger is always better is an archaic concept from an analogue past.”

Bectu chief Philippa Childs echoed McVay’s call, stating: “The success of C4 is built on the back of the current model which supports a thriving
independent production sector and allows commissioners a degree of risk and creativity, of which the viewing public reap the benefits.”

Childs cautioned the government not to let its “desire to make as much profit as possible” from C4’s sale influence its wider review of public service broadcasting.

C4 worked with 161 independent producers last year and spent £370m on original content, after cutting its cloth to cope with the pandemic. Earlier this week, it said it expected its annual spend to return to pre-pandemic level of above £600m by next year.

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