U.K. culture secretary Nadine Dorries says she hasn’t made a decision about the future of public service broadcaster Channel 4.
The U.K. broadcasting and production industry has been concerned at noises from the British government that it is intent on selling the network.
Appearing in front of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee on Tuesday, Dorries was asked whether she would require a private owner of Channel 4 to “maintain the same level of investment in Wales” that it currently spends in the region, to which she replied: “I can’t actually speculate on that at the moment because I haven’t even made a decision about whether we’re going to go to that position yet.”
Pointing to companies such as Amazon and Netflix, Dorries noted that the “broadcasting and the digital landscape are evolving and changing” rapidly which is why she was considering the broadcaster’s future. “I can’t look at where we are today with Channel 4, which I know is in a very good sustainable position, [I] can’t look at where we were yesterday. But what I am interested in is how it’s going to survive in the future.”
Saying that 17% of Channel 4’s advertising was on its digital content, Dorries said “that’s not sustainable for a channel, moving forward, so there are a number of things that I’m going to have to a number of issues that I’m going to have to consider moving forward.”
Side-stepping a question about Channel 4’s remit for risk-taking and diversity, which could be lost if the broadcaster is privatized, Liverpool-born Dorries instead spoke about her department being viewed as “very London-centric” and said: “I understand your concerns about regions, and it’s very much an ethos… within 24 hours of arriving department, I’ve put my stamp on department on this.”
Sarah Healey, permanent secretary for the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, added: “It’s about looking at what that remit is that includes regional presence, and [if] ministers make a decision to go ahead with a privatisation option with Channel Four then obviously we will need to work through the process of what obligations would be placed on on the channel, and whether any changes would be made to its remit in that process.”
Dorries added: “I would argue that just because Channel 4 has been established as a public service broadcaster, and just because it’s in receipt of public money, we should never audit the future of Channel 4 and we should never evaluate how Channel 4 looks in the future, and whether or not it’s a sustainable and viable model – it’s quite right that the government should do that.”
Dorries later clarified that she had meant public money rather than taxpayer money, since Channel 4 is a commercial operation and doesn’t receive taxpayer funds despite being a public broadcaster.
Healey also said that if Channel 4 is sold it will remain a public service broadcaster. “The Prime Minister has been clear that their intention is that Channel 4 is sold as a public service broadcaster so that’s what the obligations would need to make here,” she said.
Dorries was also asked about the ongoing appointment for a chair of broadcasting regulator Ofcom, which she said she did not believe was a disaster despite dragging on for most of 2021, and the decision taken by the Brit Awards to do away with separate categories for male and female artists. “[It’s] quite a sad decision,” said Dorries. “My concern would be that women weren’t fairly represented moving forward.”