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euro news1112v3_news 10/12/2015 18:20 Page 5 C4 chief: ‘Privatisation could devastate creative sector’ avid Abraham, Chief Executive of UK public service broadcaster Channel Four, has warned of potentially “utterly devastating” effects on the British creative sector if mooted funding models for the publicly-owned Corporation were to result in ownership passing to international broadcasting interests or ‘asset strippers’. UK Prime Minister David Cameron confirmed in November that the government is looking at all options to secure the financial future of the channel, including a private sector sale. Abraham (right) told the Broadcasting Press Guild that 2016 could potentially be one D Noting that Prime Minister Cameron had publicly expressed his support for and admiration for the broadcaster, Abraham highlighted the PM’s comments regarding the possibility of private investment being part of its future. He saw the possibility of Channel Four being given greater freedom to raise money as a “more positive” starting point than the narrow discussion that suggested state ownership per se was undesirable. “My fear here is that if the market is trying to tell the Government that a sale of Channel Four is the thing that will maintain its sustainability, there are other ways at looking at this challenge.” He suggested it was wellknown that the Government was being courted by international buyers and domestic asset strippers and encouraged it to spend as much time listening to the broadcaster’s viewers, who were saying that it was delivering to the remit “in spades”. “The challenge for those that wish to buy us is to convince the Government that they can deliver the remit as well as the current management is doing,” he suggested, adding that the framework to hold the private company to account was “challenging” as evidenced by the Ofcom Statement from 2009 which meant that a private company could only be held to account by a regulator through the courts, whereas if Abraham and the current board were failing, then they would simply be removed by the regulator. “What I’m hearing is that potential buyers of Channel Four are really only seriously interested if they can take production inhouse, because that is what will create the multiples for them,” he advised. “What is certain to me is that the impact on the creative economy will be utterly devastating. Working with hundreds of independent companies up and down the UK is central to what makes Channel Four Channel Four. It is essential to the diversity which is at the heart of our remit,” he declared. “The opposite to this is consolidation, which is what the rest of the market is focused on, which is fine, but Channel Four is here to do something different. We do believe that there are reforms to how the Terms of Trade operate that could be considered in order for us to maintain our model in a digital age, but we have never campaigned and will never campaign for the dissolution of this framework altogether.” “The challenge for those that wish to buy us is to convince the Government that they can deliver the remit as well as the current management.” of the “most seismic” in over a decade for UK TV, with the BBC Charter Review, Fox indicating that at some future stage it would seek to take full control of Sky Europe and the possibility of ITV being sold to a US major. “Those three things alone would be enough for us to say that’s a pretty seismic year, but here we are with Channel Four on the agenda too,” he noted, admitting that privatisation had been on the agenda for the past 33 years since its founding in 1982. According to Abraham, there were two types of debate, One: Channel Four was no longer delivering to its remit, or Two: the ‘model in peril’ debate, which argues that Channel Four would become incapable of delivering from a financial point of view as a result of factors such as digital switchover. He noted that Ofcom had rejected a merger proposal from PSB Channel 5‘s then owner RTL on the grounds that there would be “clear tensions between the objectives of Channel 5’s sole shareholder to maximise profits and Channel Four’s desire to maximise public service delivery.” Eir acquires Setanta Sports Ireland Irish telco Eir (formally Eircom) is buying Setanta Sports Irel [