The government has decided to push ahead with plans to privatise Channel 4, the culture secretary has confirmed.
Nadine Dorries said she had concluded “that government ownership is holding Channel 4 back from competing against streaming giants like Netflix and Amazon”.
A spokesperson for Channel 4 said it was “disappointed” with the decision but would “continue to engage” with the government on the process to “ensure that Channel 4 continues to play its unique part in Britain’s creative ecology and national life”.
The government has been pushing the idea of privatising Channel 4 in recent months.
Confirming the sale, Ms Dorries said: “A change of ownership will give Channel 4 the tools and freedom to flourish and thrive as a public service broadcaster long into the future.”
She said plans for the broadcaster’s future would be set out in a white paper.
“I will seek to reinvest the proceeds of the sale into levelling up the creative sector, putting money into independent production and creative skills in priority parts of the country – delivering a creative dividend for all,” Ms Dorries said.
The broadcaster is state-owned but receives no public funding, with more than 90% of its revenue coming from adverts.
Labour’s shadow culture secretary Lucy Powell 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.”
A government source said: “C4 is a great business with a strong brand built around it being creative, innovative and distinctive but a change of ownership will remove its straitjacket, giving C4 the freedom to innovate and grow so it can flourish and thrive long into the future and support the whole of the UK creative industries.”
Channel 4 will remain a public service broadcaster and the government will ensure it “continues to make an important social, economic and cultural contribution to the UK” including a commitment to prime time news.
Ministers are understood to believe that in order to compete with the increasing power of US streaming giants such as Netflix, it must have more freedom to borrow money or raise private sector capital to be able to invest.
Channel 4 said: “With over 60,000 submissions to the government’s public consultation, it is disappointing that today’s announcement has been made without formally recognising the significant public interest concerns which have been raised.
“The proposal to privatise Channel 4 will require a lengthy legislative process and political debate.
“We will of course continue to engage with DCMS (Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport), government and parliament, and do everything we can to ensure that Channel 4 continues to play its unique part in Britain’s creative ecology and national life.”