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UK Government Plan to Sell TV's Channel 4 Draws Criticism


General view at the entrance of the Channel 4 Headquarters in London, April 5, 2022.

The British government faced a backlash from opponents and the television industry on Tuesday over plans to sell publicly-owned broadcaster Channel 4.

The Conservative government said privatizing the channel would help it compete with streaming services and "thrive in the face of a rapidly-changing media landscape."

Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries said on Twitter that government ownership was "holding Channel 4 back from competing against streaming giants like Netflix and Amazon."

But critics say privatization will wreck a channel that has backed acclaimed shows such as "Black Mirror," "It's a Sin" and "Derry Girls," as well as highly regarded news and documentary programs.

Channel 4 was founded in 1982 to make programs for audiences under-served by existing broadcasters. It is owned by the government, but funded through advertising.

The broadcaster said it was disappointed by the government's decision, saying it had been made without "recognizing the significant public interest concerns which have been raised."

Unions and industry groups also criticized the decision. John McVay, chief executive of Pact, a trade body for independent production companies, said Channel 4's programs are made by independent producers around the U.K., and selling it "risks reducing the opportunities for independent producers, and reducing the amount of programming commissioned outside London."

Lucy Powell, culture and media spokeswoman for the opposition Labour Party, said "Selling off Channel 4, which doesn't cost the taxpayer a penny anyway, to what is likely to be a foreign company, is cultural vandalism."

Dorothy Byrne, Channel 4's former head of news and current affairs, alleged that the privatization was intended as "a bit of red meat" to Conservative supporters, many of whom think Channel 4 News has a left-wing bias.

"Channel 4 is not there to compete with Netflix and Amazon," she said. "It's there to provide a public service to the people of Britain."

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