Luke Johnson on why Channel 4 must stay public

Luke Johnson tells MT why he's so opposed to Channel 4 joining forces with ITV or Five...

Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Channel 4 chairman Luke Johnson has no interest at all in a merger with Five or ITV – at the Media Summit in London on Thursday, he reiterated his opposition to a deal with either channel (let alone both), arguing that ITV’s huge pension deficit would basically make it ‘an enormous poisoned pill’. And if you’re wondering what his preferred option is, look no further: in the March edition of MT, Johnson tells us exactly why he thinks Channel 4 deserves public funding – probably via some kind of tie-up with the BBC…

In the latest installment of the long-running saga over the future of Channel 4, ITV has now mooted a complicated three-way tie-up between Channels 3, 4 and Five (Twelve, you might call it). Five boss Dawn Airey is keen – she’s been trying to woo Channel 4 for months – but Johnson remains entirely unconvinced that either of these two is the answer. Given that Channel 4 is currently losing money so fast that it’s in danger of going bust, it clearly needs some kind of saviour – but he’d prefer to get his hands on some kind of subsidy via a deal with the BBC. And if that fails, he said today, it should be flogged at auction to the highest bidder. Though it’s not entirely clear why anyone would want a business that doesn’t work…

Johnson is the subject of this month’s MT Interview, and he was happy to admit that the current model is broken: ‘Although I believe strongly in the future of television, or at least video transmission of long-form programmes and quality content, it requires mass audiences and funding through advertising, unless it's entirely state-subsidised,’ he told MT. ‘And that's quite a challenge at this point.’

In practical terms, he favours a tie-up with BBC Worldwide – but he’s admits to having some issues with the BBC, and certainly doesn’t believe that it should be the sole recipient of public funds. ‘It's inappropriate because it creates a sort of monolithic universe, whereby the BBC is the only provider of certain sorts of quality programming,’ he says. ‘I would argue that Channel 4 is a necessary part of the universe that should be also helped, because we provide crucial competition to the BBC, we provide diversity, we provide an alternative voice that it can never provide.'

Click here for a sneak preview of MT's exclusive interview with Luke Johnson – where he also rails against bankers in the City and Government red tape, and discusses the decline of the private equity market...

In today's bulletin:

Lloyds plummets as HBOS slumps to £11bn loss
Luke Johnson on why Channel 4 must stay public
Never too old for air traffic control
General Motors on the ropes after £31bn loss
Lessons in personal matters, from YouTube

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