What is the point of the government running a public consultation if it is only going to ignore the result because it disagrees with it?
That is the question we should ask after a public consultation on Nadine Dorries’s plan to privatise Channel 4 showed that a massive 24/25 of the public don’t want it to happen.
96% of responses to a Government consultation said they did not agree with the statement that there are “challenges in the current TV broadcasting market” that present barriers to “a sustainable Channel Four” staying in public hands.
Just 2% said they agreed.
A large number of responses to the consultation came through the social campaigning organisation 38 Degrees, which rephrased the Government’s statement as: “Do you think Channel Four should be privatised?”
But even with these stripped out of the figures, the vast majority of the other respondents – 89% – disagreed that Channel Four is facing challenges to a successful future in public ownership, while 5% agreed.
Dorries has unilaterally decided that the 55,737 UK citizens who responded to her consultation don’t matter.
In a response, she reiterated her claim that the broadcaster faces “serious challenges” and that anyone “choosing to dismiss them” is “burying their head in the sand”.
It seems to This Writer that it is the Culture Secretary who is burying her head in the sand!
Her counter-claim is that Channel 4’s current ownership model, as a publicly-owned, advertising-funded broadcaster, is too restrictive.
But it is a model dictated by the government. Dorries says after the channel is privatised it will be better-able to make its own programmes, because the government will then lift restrictions on borrowing money or raising private sector capital by issuing shares.
While remaining in public ownership would preclude the issuing of shares, it would be perfectly possible for the government to vary Channel 4’s current ownership model to provide it with other forms of revenue generation in order to make, and then sell, programmes.
There is absolutely no need at all – and no public desire – for Channel 4 to be privatised.
But Dorries is determined to do it anyway.
Governments don’t make any changes lightly. They always act (in the case of good governments) in the public interest or (in the case of bad governments like that of Boris Johnson) in their own members’ selfish self-interest.
Look at the increasing influence on the National Health Service of private health companies who count dozens (if not hundreds) of MPs as shareholders.
Dorries’s decision means it is appropriate for us to ask: what do the Tories hope to get out of this? And why should we tolerate the loss of another great public institution to their greed?
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