Armando Iannucci: Sale of Channel 4 would muffle UK creativity

The Thick Of It and Veep creator Armando Iannucci has blasted the Government over the potential sale of Channel 4, saying it is an attempt to “muffle” UK creativity.

The Government is to launch a consultation on the privatisation of the channel, which was founded in 1982 to deliver to under-served audiences.

It is currently owned by the Government and receives its funding from advertising but could be sold off to a private buyer.

Potential investors are likely to include big American companies.

High-profile figures including Sir David Attenborough, Steve Coogan, Neil Gaiman and Hugh Grant have already called on the Government “to stop short-sighted political and financial attacks” on broadcasters, signing an open letter which was also signed by Iannucci.

To view this content, you'll need to update your privacy settings.
Please click here to do so.

The writer and director, who is also responsible for In The Loop, The Death Of Stalin and The Personal History Of David Copperfield, and has satirised both the UK and US Governments in his TV shows, wrote on Twitter: “Our TV industry is a British success story. Channel 4 profits go back into the industry: selling it off will give them to American shareholders.

“When we should be promoting our creative skills across the world, the Govt launches a ‘consultation’ on how best to muffle them.”

The Government has said moving Channel 4 into private ownership and changing its remit could ensure its “future success and sustainability”.

A written statement from Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden, announcing that a broadcasting White Paper will be published in the autumn, said: “Since its inception almost 40 years ago, Channel 4 has delivered on its remit, aims and objectives, and has done an excellent job in managing the uncertainty in the market over recent years.

“However, Channel 4’s current ownership model and remit places material restrictions on its ability to keep pace with the challenges posed by the fast-evolving media landscape.

Remembrance Sunday
Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden (Yui Mok/PA)

“Now is the time to proceed on the basis that an alternative ownership model (but one where it keeps a public service remit) may be better for the broadcaster and better for the country.”

Channel 4 chief executive Alex Mahon has previously warned that the broadcaster could have “different priorities” if it is privatised, and cautioned against doing anything “irreversible” which could “possibly damage some of those things that we do for the sector”.

Former head of news and current affairs Dorothy Byrne said the channel’s international news output and major foreign documentaries would also come under threat, which would be a “loss to Britain”.

She told Times Radio: “I think in Britain we have a tendency not to recognise how good some of the things that we have are; our system of regulated public service television is the envy of the world and Channel 4 is part of that system.

“Channel 4 provides one hour of news a night. You can go all over the world and I think you’ll only see that in one other country, the last time I looked.

Lord Dyson – Bashir report
Channel 4’s former head of news Dorothy Byrne (Jane Barlow/PA)

“And the agenda of that news is different, it’s much more international. And I’m concerned that, although I think BBC, ITV and Channel 5 are terrific, they have very similar and narrow news agendas.

“And if you look at great programmes like Unreported World, you would lose those. There is no way that a private, possibly US, buyer is going to want to have to do an hour of regulated news, and big international documentaries like For Sama (which won a Bafta and was nominated for an Oscar) and the big investigation that Channel 4 did of war crimes in Sri Lanka.

“We would lose that and that would be a loss to Britain.”

Asked if there is “politics at work” because Channel 4 is expressing a “liberal-left world view”, Byrne said: “I never like to assign motivation and intention to people.

“What I would say is, if you think that sometimes a broadcaster’s output has been a bit embarrassing for you, well, that is part of democracy.

“We don’t want to be like Russian TV, where the output of a broadcast never upsets a government. There would be something really wrong if the government always liked the output of all broadcasters.”

The Government consultation will also review the regulation of streaming services such as Netflix, Disney+ and Amazon Prime Video.

It will consider whether new rules around impartiality and accuracy are needed for documentaries and news content on the platforms to “level the playing field” with broadcasters, which are regulated by watchdog Ofcom.