UK culture secretary Nadine Dorries has signalled it could be some time until she has an answer on the privatization of Channel 4, as she says she is “only interested in how Channel 4 will survive in the future.”
Dorries has just taken over from privatization-architects Oliver Dowden and John Whittingdale, both of whom regularly spoke in favour of a sale, but she told her debut DCMS Committee hearing “there are a number of issues I have to consider before we make the decision.”
Former I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here! contestant Dorries repeatedly rejected questions about whether she is minded to sell, stressing she has a number of reports to examine and 60,000 UK government consultation responses to get through.
“What’s the point of having a consultation which 60,000 people respond to if I’ve already made my mind up,” she explained. “I’d like to see what 60,000 people have to say first.”
Her decision will be informed solely by Channel 4’s future position, she added.
“I can’t look at where we are today or yesterday but I’m interested in how Channel 4 will survive in the future,” she said. “Channel 4 is sustainable today but how much of its advertising revenue is digital? Around 17%? That’s not sustainable [moving forwards]. So there are a number of issues that I will have to consider.”
The channel is attempting to grow digital advertising to 30% by 2025.
Multiple industry figures and analysts have raised concerns that a privatized Channel 4 would have a weaker remit that fails to support the UK production sector but Dorries said “there is no shortage of work for indies and this is not something concerning me at the moment.”
On the BBC, she welcomed Director General Tim Davie’s 10-point impartiality plan and said “the BBC has itself accepted it has a problem with impartiality, not just in London but across the country.”
Dorries’ appointment in September raised eyebrows as she has previously referred to the BBC as “elitist”, “snobbish” and “outdated in the modern world.”
Her department is in the midst of setting the licence fee for the next five years, a decision that could leave the BBC with a shortfall of hundreds of millions of pounds if negotiations don’t go its way.
Dorries flatly denied saying BBC presenter Nick Robinson had “cost the BBC a lot of money” after grilling Prime Minister Boris Johnson in a recent interview, as reported by UK paper The Times.
She also said she “did not know” whether the BBC will still exist in 10 years’ time before swiftly U-turning and stating: “I’m very sure the BBC will be here in 10 years’ time.”