New ministers have little appetite to change broadcaster’s ownership despite John Whittingdale’s review, say insiders

The government is unlikely to tamper with Channel 4’s publicly owned status despite former culture secretary John Whittingdale’s review of its ownership, it is understood.

Labour and Conservative MPs have told MediaGuardian there appears to be no appetite among Theresa May’s newly installed ministers for an overhaul of the broadcaster’s ownership structure.

The previous government had already pulled back from proposals for a full privatisation of the channel, but other options such as part-privatisation were thought to remain on the table.

One MP, who asked not to be named, said all indications from the department were that there was no interest in a sell-off.

Another with close knowledge of the department’s thinking said there was no appetite to reopen the issue of Channel 4’s ownership after proposals for full privatisation had been dropped in May.

A third said it appeared the department was moving away from considering a radical shakeup.

The growing confidence among MPs opposed to Channel 4’s privatisation follow comments made by Ed Vaizey, who left the DCMS after six years as a junior minister when May named her new cabinet last week. He said that plans to change the structure of Channel 4 had been the “agenda” of John Whittingdale, the former culture secretary who was also removed from his post by May.

“It was very much John’s agenda, and I would be interested to see if it stays,” he told Radio 4’s The Media Show on Wednesday.

Despite showing no enthusiasm for privatisation, the DCMS is understood to still be keen to examine how to ensure the broadcaster can remain sustainable. Concerns centre around the channel’s reliance for 94% of its revenue on on advertising, which is expected to take an additional hit from Brexit.

However, a recent report from the House of Lords communications committee said the channel was well placed to weather storms in the ad market.

The waning interest in tinkering with Channel 4’s ownership follows concerted pressure from opponents of privatisation, in particular in the Lords and from backbench MPs.

During a Westminster Hall debate earlier this week new junior culture minister Matt Hancock was repeatedly asked to rule out privatisation by both Labour and Conservative MPs.

Graham Jones, the chair of the parliamentary Labour party’s culture committee who scheduled the debate, said Hancock had previously tried to pull out of the debate. He welcomed the growing consensus against tampering with Channel 4’s ownership.

He said: “It’s been important to keep the pressure on the government on this issue. It is clear that members on both sides of the house, are beginning to accept that privatisation is not in the best interests of Channel 4.

“I’ve had a good response from the debate on Tuesday and I think we may well be heading to a position where the government ditches George Osborne’s plans to sell Channel 4 off to the private sector,” he said.

“I think there is also a recognition that Channel 4 works, and that if it is is privatised, made for-profit, it would not work and would seriously undermine Channel 4’s ability to deliver the level of public broadcasting that it currently does.”

A DCMS spokesperson reiterated the department’s official position from earlier in the week, saying: “Government is looking at all options to ensure a strong and secure future for Channel 4 in what is a fast changing and challenging broadcasting environment. No decisions have been taken yet.”