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Politics of media: Brown needs a present for the voters - Channel 4?

What a difference a week makes, writes Stephen Foster. The media applaud non-spinner Brown as PM (where have they been all these years?), he fronts up nobly over the bungled terrorist bombs and then, er, what about these floods in Hull?

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So Gordon visits the submerged city (in company with local MPs Alan Johnson and John Prescott) and promises a grand total of £14m to deal with damage that the insurers, as is their wont, quantify at £1.5bn.

And all the columnists say, "count your spoons".

Because Brown is the past master at dressing up money already allocated to something as "new money", when the mood takes him. As in his budget announcements for example.

It's actually very unusual for someone to make it from chancellor to PM; the only examples I can think of are John Major (who went on to win an election, fair's fair) and Jim Callaghan, who lasted just two years.

Not an example Gordon would wish to replicate.

But he's set in stone, we keep reading, the government's spending plans for the next five years. So how can he bribe the electorate to win another term?

Sell some more national assets, of course. And one of these is Channel 4.

Let's cut to Ofcom towers on the South Bank of the Thames and ruler Ed Richards' plans for a "third publisher" or another pot of gold for any TV licence holder that deigns to provide "public sector programming".

The BBC obviously does public sector (but so it should, with £3bn-plus of licence fee income), ITV is doing almost nothing (and moaning about what it does do) and Channel 4 is doing Channel 4 News and not much else (a few documentaries, none of which win much favour with the government).

But Channel 4 CEO Andy Duncan has been banging on for months about how his station faces a £100m income shortfall. He reckons the government should step in to provide this and Ed Richards seems half-sympathetic (who else would qualify for his publisher slush find)?

But why should taxpayers support a channel that gets a huge chunk of its revenue from the tack that is 'Big Brother' and spends the rest on American imports and half-baked commercial ventures (the latest being its foray into digital radio)?

Easier surely, from Gordon Brown's point of view, to flog it off for something well north of £1bn and use the money to cut taxes (tax cuts will surely be the key to the next election).

Dear, soppy Tessa Jowell would never have done this but new culture apparatchik James Purnell wouldn't think twice.

C4's Duncan and chairman Luke Johnson don't appear to have the nous to fend off this unwelcome future (they'd no doubt make lots more money if it happened but would be forever condemned as the blokes the sold the soul of Channel 4).

What the company needs is a wily old chairman who can finesse a future for the company from these unpromising circumstances. Deputy chairman David Puttnam?

But pizza magnate Johnson and ex-BBC marketer Duncan (the only marketing director in the country who got the benefit of £100m of free ads) are not the people to preserve Channel 4.

And the ex-chancellor needs the "bawbies", if he's going to win the next election.

Bad news all round.

Politics of media is a regular series of opinion pieces for Brand Republic about the way media shapes politics and vice-versa. Stephen Foster is a partner at The Editorial Partnership and can be contacted at:steve-edco@blueyonder.co.uk.

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