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Buyers interested in Channel 4 are expected from around the world, says minister

The Government expects “a lot of interest from around the world” in its plans to sell Channel 4 to a new private owner, a minister has said (PA)
The Government expects “a lot of interest from around the world” in its plans to sell Channel 4 to a new private owner, a minister has said (PA)

The Government expects “a lot of interest from around the world” as it plans to sell Channel 4 to a private owner, a minister said.

Culture minister Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay made the claim as he faced scrutiny from peers about the decision to sell the publicly-owned broadcaster.

The minister was also told that announcing the plans while MPs are not sitting was an “appalling” move.

In the Lords, Labour peer Lord Dubs asked: “If the Government insists on pursuing this policy, what safeguards will there be against a foreign company buying Channel 4 and there will be yet another of our major media owned by people outside this country?”

Lord Parkinson replied: “Like the sale of any Government asset, the sale of Channel 4 would need to meet a careful assessment process to ensure value for money for the taxpayer.

“Further detail will be set out in the White Paper to address that.”

He added: “We expect a lot of interest from around the world in Channel 4.”

The minister earlier told Liberal Democrat peer Lord McNally Channel 4 will be an “attractive proposition” because of its success.

Lord McNally also asked the minister to “publish immediately the consultation which was completed over six months ago and which has not yet seen the light of day on which the Secretary of State (Nadine Dorries) is allegedly making this decision”.

He added: “Is he not ashamed that this extraordinarily well-run company is being dealt with in this way? A shabby decision made in an appalling way while the House of Commons is in recess.”

Lord Parkinson replied: “The responses to the consultation will be published alongside the White Paper to which I alluded in my initial answer.

“I disagree deeply with the rest of his question. The Government values highly Channel 4 and the part it plays and has played for 40 years in our broadcasting ecosystem.

“We want to ensure that its next 40 years and beyond are just as successful and it can flourish.

“It is doing that in a very rapidly changing and increasingly competitive media landscape.

“Channel 4 is uniquely constrained by its current ownership model and its current access to capital.”

Conservative former minister Lord Deben also expressed opposition to the Government’s proposals.

He asked: “If a former constituent came up to me in the street and said, ‘Lord Deben, given Covid, the disastrous Brexit, the European war, the cost-of-living crisis, why has the Government thought it urgent to bring forward something for which there is no public demand and real opposition across the House?’”

Lord Parkinson said not all constituents would “phrase it like that”, adding: “The risks of doing nothing are to leave Channel 4 reliant on linear advertising.

“Currently, 74% of its income comes from linear advertising, which is a part of the broadcasting landscape which is changing rapidly, trying to compete with the likes of Netflix, which spent £9.2 billion on original content in 2019, compared to £2.1 billion from all of the UK’s public service broadcasters.

“We want to make sure that Channel 4 is fit for the future so it can continue to thrive and flourish.”