New UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak may abandon plans to privatize public service broadcaster Channel 4, according to a report in the Financial Times.
“The decision to release Channel 4 sales from the media has been signaled by Downing Street to industry and Whitehall,” the report said. The privatization plan was floated during the tenure of Sunac’s predecessor, Boris Johnson, and was carried out by then Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries.
Sunak was privately skeptical of the issue, prioritizing the privatization of Channel 4 when he was chancellor, the report said. However, during Sunak’s summer leadership campaign after Johnson was ousted, then Liz Truss briefly became prime minister, Sunak supported privatisation.
A Sunac spokesman said at the time: “Privatisation will help Channel 4 thrive in an age where competition from Netflix, Amazon, Apple and others – standing still is not an option.”
However, things have changed since then. Truss and her chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng’s terrible economic policies have left the UK economy in shambles, and Sunak and his chancellor Jeremy Hunt have a major overhaul on their hands, so Channel 4 is not a priority. Before becoming chancellor, Hunt said it would be “shameful” for public service broadcasting to lose the race between the BBC and Channel 4.
The move to privatize Channel 4 is unpopular in the UK media industry and is opposed by many in the ruling Conservative Party.
A Financial Times report quoted a senior member of the Conservative Party as saying, “The government may not want to end privatization quietly.” “It is unpopular with some parts of the party, has a huge impact on the creative sector and could be implemented without a media bill.”
The UK’s current culture secretary, Michelle Donnellan, said in September: “We are looking at the business case for the sale of Channel 4 and we are still making sure we agree with this decision and that is what I am doing.”
Channel 4 declined to comment.