Nadine Dorries’ slip-ups may be funny – but her Channel 4 plans are no joke | Jane Martinson

JThe slip-ups and car crash interviews of Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries, like her reference to ‘downstream’ films, regularly provide fodder for satirists and social media users, but the problem is that these clips are distractions from the real stuff of what she does – and the privatization of Channel 4 is no joke.

Privatization in one form or another has been mooted about half a dozen times since the channel launched in 1982, but no one has come as close as this government, which continues to sell it. There are doubts whether he will have the political support to pass the necessary legislation to sell the broadcaster, but Dorries defends the plans, not by the brilliance of his argument, but by being less than entirely clear on facts.

Channel 4, which celebrates its 40th anniversary this year, is a strange beast: a public channel financed by private advertising, but with a commitment, or mission, to broadcast public service content (news, the Paralympics, voice regions) that is largely unprofitable, and then reinvest the profits in new programming.

On the day the white paper to privatize the channel was published, listeners to Iain Dale’s LBC radio show heard Dorries say that investment in broadcast rival Channel 5 had increased after its “privatisation…there three years, maybe five years ago”. Channel 5 was never owned by the state and therefore could never have been privatised.

When the error has been reported, Dorries doubled. She said critics were ‘finicky’ after she ‘misspoke’ the date, suggesting that not remembering the Channel 5 (2014) sell-out date was the problem and not the fact that she didn’t. didn’t understand the channel ownership model.

Everyone is allowed to make mistakes, but the interview was not unusual. She wrote a column for the Mail on Sunday titled “Predictably the Leftie lynching mafia refuse to accept what is best for British television”. In it, Dorries trumpeted that “Channel 4 cut the amount it spent on new content by £158m”, but played down the fact that this drop happened in 2020, a year exceptional for everyone, and that the broadcaster’s spending has since returned to above 2019 levels.

Dorries is of the opinion that Margaret Thatcher wanted to privatize the channel, citing the former Prime Minister’s 1988 memoir, but fails to mention the fact that later meetings dissuaded Thatcher from this view. Part of it was economic – without in-house production, Channel 4 has kickstarted a thriving independent production sector in the UK since the 1980s – but Thatcher was also convinced the bill was likely to be defeated. Minutes held in the National Archives read: “In both houses a proposal to privatize Channel 4 was likely to be defeated.

Dorries likes to suggest that media lovers are the ones criticizing his plans, yet 96% of responses to the government’s consultation paper were against privatization. Dorries has called the organization “politically motivated” by polling group 38 Degrees, which does not explain why many members of his own party, including Julian Knight, Jeremy Hunt and Damian Green, are against the plans.

So why would the government want to push this privatization now? It can’t just be because he needs the proceeds from the sale, as Dorries has promised to reinvest it. Dorries denies her motives are political – but she still mocks the ‘Channel 4 anchor…shouting eff Tories’ at every opportunity.

It’s hard not to believe Boris Johnson and his team are ramping up the pressure on Channel 4 to exact revenge for his political coverage, including replacing him with a sculpture of melting ice when he failed to show up for a debate on the climate crisis.

The public must remember that they can oust the Prime Minister in the next election, but once Channel 4 is gone it won’t be coming back.

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