Health Secretary Sajid Javid has said privatising Channel 4 will set the network “free”.
The broadcaster has been publicly owned since it was founded in 1982 and is funded by advertising, with the Government confirming this week it will proceed with plans to privatise it.
Plans for the sale will reportedly be set out in a White Paper later in April and will be included in a new Media Bill for spring 2023.
Speaking to LBC Radio, Mr Javid said: “I love Channel 4. I think it’s great, but I want a Channel 4 that can compete in what is a fast-changing landscape. I think we can all agree that since Channel 4 was created the media landscape has changed.”
He added: “You must think carefully about why could it be better off being sold, and the reason is that, to compete properly, it needs to be able to raise its own funds and capital, whether that’s debt or equity, to do that in a way that it can properly compete in a vastly changing media landscape.
“This will set Channel 4 free. It will still be, by the way, a public broadcaster like ITV. It will have a public licence. They will have duties under that.
“You know, ITV is a great British broadcaster too, but it has been privately held now for many, many years. And it’s growing stronger. It has been able to compete, I think, as a result of that more effectively.
“And, by the way, my understanding is the funds that will be raised – I don’t know how much eventually, that will have to be worked out – but the funds that will be raised, which will be considerable, from the sale will all be reinvested back in the creative industries, including independent productions.”
Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries said on Monday night that while Channel 4 held a “cherished place in British life” she felt that government ownership was holding the broadcaster back from “competing against streaming giants like Netflix and Amazon”.
A statement by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) said it had made the decision to allow the channel to “thrive in the face of a rapidly changing media landscape” while a Government source earlier this week said the move would “remove Channel 4’s straitjacket”.
Reports have suggested the channel could be sold for as much as £1 billion, with Ms Dorries tweeting on Monday that proceeds from the sale of Channel 4 would “be invested in left behind areas investing in indies and creative skills desperately needed in our rapidly growing creative industries”.
She added: “We made more films here in last Q 2021 than Hollywood, many more studios opening. Funding creative skills is key.”
Writing in The Guardian, The Thick Of It creator Armando Iannucci said that Channel 4 has “proven its worth, bringing exciting new and creative voices to UK television, raising our game internationally, committing itself to independent journalism, and launching the growth of independent production and employment across all the regions”.
He questioned why the Government “want (s) to take a thriving, successful British industry, one that puts billions into the economy, and promotes British culture and values internationally – and cut it down?”.
“It doesn’t make any business sense, and it’s certainly not patriotic,” he said.
The writer, director and producer added in his piece: “I regularly get asked by international broadcasters why the UK Government has such a destructive agenda against the country’s main television networks.”
Channel 4 said on Monday night in a statement that “with over 60,000 submissions to the Government’s public consultation, it is disappointing that today’s announcement has been made without formally recognising the significant public interest concerns which have been raised”.
In an internal email sent to staff on Monday, Channel 4 chief executive Alex Mahon wrote: “Our job is to deliver what Parliament tasks us to do, and if or when that changes, then I am confident that this incredible organisation will respond with the relentless energy it has always displayed in pursuit of its goals and the remit.”
Conservative MP Julian Knight on Tuesday questioned if the plans were “revenge”, adding in a string of tweets that many Tories believe the move is “payback time” for “biased coverage”.