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The Guardian view on Channel 4: don’t sell it | Editorial

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Even senior Tories think the plan to privatise the broadcaster is madness. It must be stopped

Nadine Dorries strikes again. It is impossible to take her seriously as a politician of substance, but she seems determined to do – and capable of doing – serious damage. She has restated her intention to push ahead with selling off Channel 4, in order, she says, to allow it to compete with Netflix and Amazon, from which destiny it is currently being “held back”. This makes no sense, and shows a lack of understanding of what these streamers are and what they do (giant US tech companies aiming for global reach); and of what Channel 4 is and does (a British public-service broadcaster that publishes, rather than owns, the material it commissions, and is aimed at generating a diverse, lively domestic production sector).

Why anyone would feel the need to transform Channel 4’s ownership arrangements is a mystery. A Tory government rejected the notion in 2016. Indeed, senior Conservatives, including the former culture secretary Jeremy Hunt and Ruth Davidson, the former leader of the Scottish Tories, have publicly condemned the idea since the culture secretary’s latest pronouncement on the matter. What many Tories grasp, but Ms Dorries seems not to, is that Channel 4, though in public ownership, costs the taxpayer nothing, since it raises its own cash and then, crucially, ploughs its revenues back into commissioning. In November she asserted to a parliamentary select committee that the channel is funded by the taxpayer. This is quite simply untrue (indeed, she was immediately corrected by her questioner, fellow Tory Damian Green). It is concerning that the fate of a national broadcaster depends, at least in part, on someone who seems to know so little about it.

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