The UK's Channel 4: five iconic moments from the broadcaster's coverage of the Middle East and Arab communities

The UK's Channel 4: five iconic moments from the broadcaster's coverage of the Middle East and Arab communities
Britain's Channel 4 is set to be privatised as the UK government moves forward with plans to put the broadcaster up for sale. The New Arab looks back at its iconic moments covering the Middle East and Arab communities as a publicly-owned channel.
4 min read
06 April, 2022
The plans to privatise Channel 4 were met with fierce reactions from politicians and celebrities, such as David Attenborough [source: Getty]

The UK government is pushing ahead with controversial plans to privatise British broadcaster Channel 4. 

The broadcaster - which has been commercially funded but state-owned for 40 years - is expected to be up for sale by the end of 2023, in a move that could raise more than £1 billion (US$1.3 billion). 

Government officials said public ownership is “holding [the broadcaster] back in the face of a rapidly changing and competitive media landscape”. 

Channel 4 released a statement on Monday calling the announcement “disappointing”. 

“Channel 4 has engaged in good faith with the Government throughout the consultation process, demonstrating how it can continue to commission much-loved programmes from the independent sector across the UK that represent and celebrate every aspect of British life as well as increase its contribution to society, while maintaining ownership by the public.” 

The broadcaster said it will continue to work with the government in what is likely to be a “lengthy legislative process and political debate” over its future. 

Looking back, The New Arab has selected five iconic moments from Channel 4’s history covering the Arab communities and the Middle East. 

Alastair Campbell’s infamous WMD interview 

Perhaps one of the broadcaster’s most notorious interviews occurred in 2003. Alastair Campbell, communications director in Tony Blair’s government, was questioned over the media coverage of the Iraq invasion. Campbell was on the defensive following allegations that the UK government “deliberately exaggerated, abused and distorted intelligence” to justify the invasion. He said they had not. 

The UK Chilcot inquiry into the 2003 invasion later concluded that the UK government misrepresented the severity of the threat posed by Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction. 

The US-led invasion killed at minimum tens of thousands of people and fuelled sectarianism and extremism across the Middle East.

Channel 4 hires the first hijab-wearing TV newsreader, Fatima Manji

Fatima Manji, who started her career at the BBC, rose to prominence when she became a leading news presenter for Channel 4 in March 2016. 

When asked why representation in journalism matters, Manji told The Guardian: “It matters because it’s really important that newsrooms reflect the populations they serve…It allows us to be better journalists - that’s why it’s important”.

Channel 4 commissions Waad al-Kateab as an exclusive film-maker in Syria 

In 2015, Channel 4 commissioned Waad Al-Kateab, a young journalist in Aleppo, to make a film about life inside the city. As the war continued, the broadcaster took the decision to hire her exclusively to document life under siege. 

Much of what Kateab covered came from the emergency room of the hospital where her doctor husband worked. Channel 4 praised the Syrian for humanising the victims, “showing us whole families in their worst moments”. 

Kateab’s reports later became the basis of the award-winning film For Sama, which followed her experiences as a mother-to-be in Aleppo.

Jon Snow speaks out for the children of Gaza 

Following the bombardment of Gaza in 2014, when over 2,000 Palestinians were killed, lead anchor Jon Snow made an impassioned speech about the children of Gaza on the channel's flagship news programme. 

“I’m back and in the comfort of this studio, it’s hard to imagine I was ever away… 

“In a very densely packed urban area, if you decide to throw missiles and shells, then undoubtedly you will kill children.” 

As of 2014, roughly 43 percent of Gaza’s 1.8 million population was aged 14 or younger.

Channel 4 commissions Gogglebox, featuring hijab-wearing sisters from London

One of the broadcaster's run-away successes has been the smash hit Gogglebox - a show about people watching TV. 

The first series launched in March 2013, and the nineteenth series began airing in February 2022. 

Some of the show’s stand-out stars are Amani and Amira, two hijab-wearing sisters from north London. 

The show has won several awards and was praised by critics for showing a diverse, modern representation of Britain.