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Trust urges Government to keep Channel 4 unprivatised

29 April 2016


Hidden clues: Erica Utsi, a geophysicist, leads a radar scan of the grave of William Shakespeare in Holy Trinity, Stratford-upon-Avon. For the first time, the church has given permission for a film crew to investigate the playwright’s tomb. The documentary, broadcast last month on Channel 4, used radar to reveal that the grave had been repaired around the head-end, which could back up claims that trophy hunters stole Shakespeare’s skull in the 18th century

Hidden clues: Erica Utsi, a geophysicist, leads a radar scan of the grave of William Shakespeare in Holy Trinity, Stratford-upon-Avon. For the first t...

THE Sandford St Martin Trust has urged the Government to prevent the privatisation of Channel 4, and defended the importance of religious broadcasting in the UK, in a formal submission to the House of Lords.

The document was submitted to the Communications Select Committee by the Bishop of Leeds, the Rt Revd Nicholas Baines, on Wednesday of last week. The Bishop chairs the Trust, which exists to promote excellence in religious broadcasting.

“Religion is a prime motivator of both individuals and communities, inspiring and informing their political, economic, ethical and social behaviour,” it says.

On Tuesday, the Select Committee conducted an evidence session on the future of Channel 4 in the House of Lords, at which the broadcaster’s chief executive, David Abraham, was a witness.

The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, John Whittingdale, giving evidence, said that the broadcaster would be “better off” in the private sector, and that there was “no shortage of potential interest” from media buyers.

“Channel 4 would have a stronger future if it has a private-sector partner who has deep pockets and was willing to invest in the growth of the business.”

The inquiry was opened by the Government in November to moot a “part-privatisation” plan for Channel 4 to raise money for public funds, while maintaining its position as a public service broadcaster (PSB).

Mr Abraham, who is not in favour, has previously said that privatising would be “like crossing the Rubicon and realising you’re on a sinking ship”.

The Sandford St Martin Trust agrees, in its submission, that the broadcaster should remain in non-commercial ownership, because, as part of its “PBS remit, Channel 4 has a responsibility to provide high-quality programming reflecting the cultural diversity of the UK. . . There is need for greater understanding of religious issues, in order to deliver proper coverage of world affairs.”

It points to several reports on public-service television, including a review by the broadcasting regulator OFCOM, in 2013, which states that religious programming is “generally considered to be core PSB territory” and an “immediate issue” of concern.

The document also notes “with dismay the dramatic decline in hours and investment by Channel 4 and ITV in religious programming”.

The Sandford St Martin Trust recommends that Channel 4 revise the structure of its ownership, and continue to inform and educate viewers about the “place and nature of religion in the modern world”.

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