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Britain to sell Channel 4 to ‘unleash’ broadcaster’s potential

Britain’s government said it will set out plans to sell Channel 4, the publicly owned but commercially funded broadcaster established in the 1980s, in a policy paper on Thursday.

Channel 4 was created by Conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s government to deliver an edgy alternative to the BBC and ITV, with a focus on under-served audiences.

With no in-house production, it played a key role in establishing Britain’s independent programme making sector.

The broadcaster’s management, lawmakers across parliament and television grandees oppose a sale, saying it would jeopardise Channel 4’s distinctive programming.

Britain’s Media, Data and Digital Infrastructure minister Julia Lopez said public service broadcasters such as Channel 4 delivered high-quality content, but the industry had changed beyond recognition with the rise of U.S. streaming giants.

“We will be publishing a White Paper that proposes major reforms to our decades-old broadcasting regulations, reforms that will put traditional broadcasters like the BBC, ITV and Channel 4 on an even playing field with Netflix, Amazon Prime and others,” Lopez told lawmakers on Wednesday.

“The sale of Channel 4 is just one part of that major piece of reform,” Lopez said, adding that the channel had “few options to grow, to invest and to compete” under public ownership.

“This government believes it’s time to unleash the broadcaster’s full potential and open Channel 4 up to private ownership and investment, while crucially protecting its public service broadcasting remit,” she said.

The government said in a statement it would simplify the obligations on all public service broadcasters, with a focus on creating distinctive programmes that reflect British culture, supporting production in Britain and providing impartial news.

It said it would also legislate to ensure public broadcaster content was always carried and easy to find for British audiences on connected devices and major online platforms, including on smart TVs, set-top boxes and streaming sticks.

A spokesperson for ITV, Britain’s biggest free-to-air commercial broadcaster, said many of the proposals, notably reform to prominence and inclusion rules and a more flexible approach to remits, looked “very sensible”. Reuters UK

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