Culture secretary tells DCMS Committee there are ’a number of issues to consider’

Nadine Dorries

The future ownership of Channel 4 is in the balance after culture secretary Nadine Dorries revealed she hasn’t “made [her] mind up” as to whether it should be privatised.

In her first substantial comments on the subject since her appointment in September, Dorries said the DCMS is “working hard and fast to get through” the 60,000 “detailed” responses it had received, before making a decision. A white paper was expected to be published in the autumn but is yet to emerge

“It’s a big body of work [and] there are a number of issues I have to consider before I make the decision over the future of Channel 4,” she told the DCMS Select Committee in her first evidence session.

“I know there’s a lot of speculation about [whether] the decision has been made [but] a decision hasn’t been taken.”

Dorries rejected Conservative MP Damian Green’s suggestion that the broadcaster should be for responsible for its own sustainability and that it is “right and proper” for government to evaluate its position.

She misstated that C4 is in “receipt of taxpayers’ money” and that it is the government’s “responsibility to evaluate whether taxpayers are receiving value for money” – drawing some ire from industry observers on social media.

“I can’t look at where we are today with Channel 4, which I know is in a very good, stable position, but what I am interested in is how Channel 4 is going to survive in the future,” she added.

“It’s fascinating how the broadcasting and digital landscape is evolving and changing. Is Channel 4 sustainable today? Yes. [But] how much of its advertising [revenue] is digital? 17%? That’s not sustainable.

“In the rapidly-changing digital environment, the future and longevity of that broadcaster should be brought into question. Just because C4’s been established as a PSB, we shouldn’t not audit the future and evaluate how it looks.”

Despite the uncertainty, Dorries’ comments appeared to represent a softening of the stance of her predecessor Oliver Dowden who said that keeping C4 public would be an “act of self-harm”, and former culture minister John Whittingdale who maintained selling off the broadcaster would help it “thrive”.

However she continued to suggest that the independent production community would not suffer if the government opts to proceed with a sale.

“There are lots of PSBs and other broadcasters that commission independent content,” she said. “In terms of the jobs market for independent production companies, there’s no shortage of work. The future of those people working in that industry isn’t something that’s concerning me at the moment.”