Dr Neil Hudson, MP for Penrith and The Border, stood up in the Commons today to defend Channel 4 from privatisation, and provide rural constituents with a world-class reliable service.
Pointing to the specific needs of people living in rural areas with poor internet access, like Cumbria, Dr Hudson urged the Media and Digital Minister, to not privatise Channel 4 and to make sure it remains free-to-air. He said now is the time to support public broadcasters and hailed the great work they do.
Replying Minister of State, Julia Lopez, thanked Dr Hudson for his commitment to connectivity in Penrith and The Border, said her aim was to maintain Channel 4 as free-to-air but said he would have to review the issue in context when the White Paper is published tomorrow.
This year, Nadine Dorries, Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport indicated she would aim to sell the state-owned broadcaster, with a new White Paper detailing the departments plans expected tomorrow.
Established by the Conservative Government in 1982, Channel 4 is currently owned by the state but funded commercially – receiving no monetary support from the taxpayer.
Dr Hudson’s remarks came in an Urgent Question session tabled by the Official Labour Opposition.
In the Commons, Dr Neil Hudson MP for Penrith and The Border, said:
“Up and down the country public service broadcasters like Channel 4, the BBC and ITV are treasured national assets delivering vital news, education, entertainment and sport. Now in rural areas like mine up in Penrith and The Border, people depend on free-to-air terrestrial TV - especially in areas with poor internet coverage.
“I know the Government is working on that and my Honourable Friend is working with me to help improve that situation in rural Cumbria, but please, please can I urge the Government to rethink this Channel 4 privatisation idea.
“Now is the time to support, bolster our public service broadcasters, not challenge them or lead to a competitive subscription-based service, which is the last thing that our rural communities need.”
Replying, Minister of State at the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, Julia Lopez, said:
“First of all, I want to thank my honourable friend for all the work that he's doing on connectivity in his constituency, and I'm pleased to say that Cumbria is one of our priority procurements for a gigabit rollout and I look forward to working with him on that.
“I would simply refer him to previous answers I have given. We would maintain Channel 4 as a free to air service, we're not looking for a subscription model and everything that we are doing is seeking to bolster the Public Service Broadcasting sector and I hope that when he sees the context in which this decision has been made that he will feel reassured.”
Speaking afterwards, Dr Neil Hudson MP, commented:
“ I was pleased in her answer to me that the Minister reaffirmed that Cumbria is a priority area for gigabit rollout but despite that good news, I’ve been clear from the start – I am firmly against the privatisation of Channel 4 and have made representations to Government to that effect.
“Since privatisation was first brought up, I’ve been contacted by scores of constituents who are rightly concerned about the Government’s plans. Public service broadcasters such as Channel 4, the BBC and ITV are amazing national and local assets that produce a wide range of world class programmes from news, drama, sport and nature. Moreover, they were hugely helpful in providing education to children throughout the pandemic.
“I fully appreciate audience habits, revenue streams and technology have all changed dramatically from when Channel 4 was created, but privatisation is not the solution.
“Frankly we cannot make terrestrial television harder to watch at a time when parts of rural Cumbria struggle with internet connectivity.”