Senior Conservative lawmakers used the Opposition Day debate to express their concerns over plans to privatize Channel 4, as they argued the sale would be “disastrous”, “conservative” and “bad” for the economy.
Citing Labor’s Opposition Day debate in the Commons over the privatization of Channel 4, Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries told lawmakers that the government wanted to use the proceeds of the sale to “benefit the whole country”.
He also claimed that the reason behind the government’s decision to change the channel’s ownership is that “the state cannot own a public service broadcaster that risks borrowing money”.
However, Conservative MP Sir Peter Botley, former Conservative minister Jesse Norman and Conservative chair of the Committee on Digital, Media, Culture and Sport Julian Knight all vehemently rejected those claims in their speeches.
Sir Peter called the move “disastrous”, while former Treasury Minister Mr Norman insisted it was “bad economics”.
Later comments were echoed by Mr Knight, who said the price of selling Channel 4 would be “modest” for the Treasury, which would serve the national debt for “72 hours”.
The Father of the House told the Commons: “We have more than three different types of public service broadcasters, the government is proposing to eliminate one of them. It’s not conservative, it’s destructive.”
Meanwhile, Mr Knight questioned whether the channel’s privatization plan was a “revenge” for its Brexit coverage, telling lawmakers: “Is this some sort of revenge game? I hope not, because such things are a lot. These are indecent. We should always, individually or collectively, rise above such feelings.
“Personally, I believe that some of Channel 4’s coverage around Brexit was extreme and I don’t think they did themselves any special favors, but we as a political class are bigger than us in every way.” should be.”
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Mr Norman said: “The truth is that despite some concerns that have been raised, this is not a problem. And this is a time of serious concern and growing concern among people in this country about the cost of living.”
The MP for Hereford and South Herefordshire, who served as Treasury Minister until September 2021, said: “I would also say that this is bad economics from a public point of view.
“The House will know that I’ve spent a few years as Treasury Minister, especially during the period in which the Secretary of State talked about all the support given to the cultural sector, and I think it’s bad economics. Is.
“Even if the barriers are eased the way they’ve been described, the revenue to be realized will only be on the order of half a billion to a billion pounds on a net basis.”
Other Tory lawmakers showed enthusiasm for the sale, with Damien Collins arguing that the broadcaster could “wither on the vine” without change.
The MP for Folkestone and Hythe said: “The idea that the status quo can continue is wrong.
“I think it would be wrong for us to even assume it could happen and say that we will deal with this problem in the future if it does come up, and in the meantime watch Channel 4 slowly wither on the vine.”
In her inaugural address, Ms Doris stressed that “under private ownership”, Channel 4’s potential would be unlocked “by removing the publisher-broadcaster restriction”.
She continued: “Which company pays 100% for the content but does not own the content? There is no other company that considers this to be a successful business model. The ban is effectively allowing the broadcaster to produce and sell their content. from which it is not a significant way to make money.”
She said: “So, Channel 4 is state-owned. The state cannot own a public service broadcaster that risks borrowing money, because if it goes wrong, the taxpayer has to pay that debt.” Is. “
On how she plans to “benefit the whole country” by selling Channel 4, Ms Doris explained: “Although it is early days, surprisingly, there are already a lot of initials from a wide range of potential bidders.” There has been interest and when the sale is secured it will not only benefit Channel 4. We intend to use the proceeds to benefit the entire country.
“As I’ve said, Channel 4 was originally established to help promote independent production. It has succeeded in that mission. So successful, in fact, that we’re taking on a new and very positive challenge.” are facing.
“Production studios are booming across the country. In fact, there is such a demand for them that we need more and more people to work in them. And so we want to funnel some of the sales proceeds to address that new challenge. ,
Ending the debate for Labour, Shadow Scotland secretary Ian Murray urged the government to scrap its plans to privatize Channel 4, citing Mrs Doyle’s catchphrase from the channel’s comedy series Father Ted.
He told MPs: “The country will be grateful, the industry will be grateful, the audience will be grateful if the Secretary of State scraps this privatization.
“In the words of Mrs. Doyle in another famous channel show: ‘Go ahead, go ahead’.”