Privatisation could lead to stronger Channel 4: Whittingdale


Privatising Channel 4 by bringing in a company with "deep pockets" could give the broadcaster a "stronger future", the Culture Secretary has said.

The channel is "entirely dependent" on "volatile" advertising revenue and the Government is looking at "every option" for reform, John Whittingdale insisted.

He told peers there is "no shortage" of potential interest in the company, but there has been "absolutely no pressure" from the Treasury to hive off the broadcaster as a money raising venture.

Mr Whittingdale said the biggest issue in his in-tray was the BBC charter renewal, but that would have a knock-on effect on other broadcasters.

Asked about the possibility of mutualisation, he told the House of Lords Communications committee that he did not believe the option offered "any great advantage" to Channel 4.

"There is an argument that Channel 4 will have a stronger future if it has a private sector partner either in part or in whole who has deep pockets and who is willing to invest in the growth of the business," he said.

He told the committee the plan for its future was a "work in progress" and no decisions had yet been made.

"My intention is to try to ensure that Channel 4 remains a viable, well-resourced, strong contributor to the public service broadcasting environment."

The Cabinet minister told peers he was "slightly concerned" about the scale of popular programmes in the Channel 4 schedule, pointing out that today it had aired lots of episodes of Will and Grace, Frasier and Four in a Bed.

It is becoming "harder to find" innovative shows that meet Channel 4's remit, he said.

"There is a case for making it clearer exactly the kind of programming which we expect Channel 4 to deliver in order to serve the remit and then it will become a clearer distinction between that and the more populist commercial programming."

Mr Whittingdale, who has been at the centre of a media storm over his personal life, said that Channel 4 News is "distinctly different" before joking, "sometimes it's deeply annoying".

He added: "It's very much at the core of the remit."

Asked about the decision last year to block the continuation of Lord Burns as the channel's chairman, Mr Whittingdale said Ofcom should have come to him with its recommendation earlier.

At the end of a term of office it is "right that somebody fresh is brought in", he added.