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5 times Channel 4 left the UK government red-faced

Channel 4 has had a long reputation of holding our government to account. Is privatisation payback?

Anita Mureithi
5 April 2022, 5.34pm
Is this payback?
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Jon Hill / Alamy Stock Photo

The UK government has confirmed its plans to press ahead with the privatisation of Channel 4, after months of pushing the idea.

The decision has been met with a backlash, and ministers have been accused of “cultural vandalism”.

Critics of the move, including Labour MP Dawn Butler, have condemned the Conservative Party for trying to “suppress free speech” and “dictate” news outlets.

Here are five times that Channel 4 has embarrassed the Tories.

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Lying in politics

In 2017, Krishnan Guru-Murthy challenged then-Brexit secretary David Davis on lying in politics. In a question about Theresa May’s performance on the campaign trail and the Brexit negotiations that were ongoing at the time, Guru-Murthy asked: “Why does she go around saying things that aren’t true?”

May had made a statement claiming the Labour Party wanted uncontrolled migration.

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Channel 4 News

Later, Guru-Murthy asked Davis if the Conservatives "were guaranteeing that no unskilled workers would be arriving into Britain after Brexit".

Following a heated exchange, Davis said: “It will be managed migration, not free movement. That's the distinction."

Evidence of serious failings

A 2020 Dispatches investigation into the government’s handling of the pandemic found evidence of serious failings at one of the country’s biggest Covid-testing laboratories.

The Dispatches programme, Lockdown Chaos: How the Government Lost Control, sent an undercover reporter to work at Randox – the medical diagnostics firm based in Northern Ireland – as part of its examination of the government’s NHS Test and Trace system. Randox runs one of the ‘superlabs’ and has been given more than £500m in government contracts to analyse hundreds of thousands of Covid-19 tests from across Britain.

The documentary sparked a major investigation by health and safety regulators that led to medical firm Randox being directed to take immediate action over safety concerns and management failures.

But at the time, a Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) spokesperson defended the company. “We are proud to be working with a number of partners on innovative solutions to increase capacity where it is needed and introduce larger-scale testing,” they said.

“This includes an extension of an existing contract with Randox Laboratories, as we continue to increase testing capacity.”

Inside the secretive Tory election call centre

During the 2017 election campaign, a Channel 4 investigation revealed that the Conservative Party had contracted a secretive call centre, which may have broken data protection and election laws.

An undercover reporter working for Channel 4 News secured a job at Blue Telecoms, a firm in Neath, South Wales, and found potentially unlawful practices in calls made at the centre on behalf of the Tories.

Allegations at the time included paid canvassing on behalf of Conservative election candidates – banned under election law – political cold calling to prohibited numbers, and misleading calls claiming to be from an ‘independent market research company’ that seemingly did not exist.

The Tories denied breaking electoral law.

Meeting fossil fuel companies ahead of COP26

A year before the UK hosted the key climate conference COP26, the UK’s then trade minister Conor Burns met representatives from ExxonMobil, Shell, BP, Chevron and Equinor at a private dinner in Texas, Channel 4 revealed.

Exclusive recordings revealed that natural gas, a fossil fuel, was championed at the event as a part of the “solution” to climate change. Britain’s Consul General in Houston, Richard Hyde, wrote a memo to the government saying the companies “need support from governments like ours”.

Fossil fuel companies would subsequently make up the biggest delegation at the summit. It sparked outrage, considering that, in the words of one campaigner: “The fossil fuel industry has spent decades denying and delaying real action on the climate crisis.”

A spokesperson for the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office defended meeting with these companies, and called it “a routine engagement with the energy industry focussed on the importance of the transition to a clean energy future”.

A dish best served cold

In 2019, the Conservative Party threatened to put Channel 4’s broadcast remit under review.

In one of several no-shows during the general election campaign, prime minister Boris Johnson failed to attend a televised leaders’ debate on climate change. The channel decided to replace Johnson with an ice sculpture that melted away under studio lights as the event took place.

Accusing Channel 4 of a “wider pattern of bias”, Conservative spokesperson Lee Cain said he had written to Ofcom demanding an investigation, claiming Channel 4 had breached the broadcasting code with “a provocative partisan stunt” that constituted “making a political opinion in its own right”.

Ofcom rejected the complaint.

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REUTERS / Alamy Stock Photo

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