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Catherine Deveney: Can we send our embarrassing culture secretary back to the I’m a Celeb jungle?

Culture secretary Nadine Dorries recently announced plans to privatise Channel 4 (Photo: Stefan Rousseau/PA)
Culture secretary Nadine Dorries recently announced plans to privatise Channel 4 (Photo: Stefan Rousseau/PA)

I would honestly take the culture secretary, Nadine Dorries, more seriously if I could get the picture of her covered in cockroaches and eating ostrich anus out of my head.

Appearing on I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here! in the Australian jungle might not blackball you from the Department of Culture, but it does dent your authority a bit when dictating the future of British broadcasting.

Her intention to privatise Channel 4 – and, eventually, the BBC – has been widely condemned by industry insiders or, as Dorries christened them this week, the “lefty luvvie lynch mob”.

Lovely alliteration there, Nadine, and I think we can see where the Dorries Show would be pitched: somewhere between a Japanese torture reality series, and Catchphrase.

Let’s hear it for the gameshow slogan! Points mean prizes! Cooooo-me on down! Get used to it, dear reader. Coming soon to a Channel 4 near you.

Dorries claims to know better than lefty loonies who want Channel 4 to remain in public ownership. (Ooh – is she talking about media workers like me? How very rude!)

Her authority comes from on high, what with her once claiming to be a conduit for God’s work, but maybe she needs to listen to the boss more. In her toe-curling performance before the Culture Select Committee, she claimed Channel 4 received public money. (Psst! Minister! Heaven calling… Channel 4 gets not a penny from the public purse.)

If Dorries is a conduit for God’s work, He must be a Labour voter.

Selling Channel 4 pursues dodgy political dogma

Channel 4 makes dosh. Lots of it. Its programme budget this year is a record-breaking £700 million, and it contributes around £12 billion to the UK’s GDP.

A culture minister who wants to privatise a profitable, award-winning company without actually understanding its business model is just embarrassing. It also reveals a subtext. Freezing the BBC licence fee and selling Channel 4 pursues dodgy political dogma, not creative excellence.

Is the fact that, during the 2019 election campaign, Channel 4 replaced Boris Johnson with a melting block of ice during a climate change debate perhaps connected to Tory wrath?

Why does privatisation matter? Because Channel 4 does not make any of its own programmes. It commissions them.

That supports independent production companies all over the UK, helping to create a sustainable, vibrant production sector outside London. In fact, around two thirds of its main content is made in “the nations and regions” – a significant employment boost for Scotland.

British teen drama, Skins, was just one of many groundbreaking TV shows commissioned by Channel 4 (Photo: Ray Tang/Shutterstock)

Channel 4 doesn’t even make its own flagship news programme, a nightly, hour-long pinnacle of excellence that investigates complex, costly stories and pursues truth relentlessly.

Ah! Lightbulb moment! Is the fact that, during the 2019 election campaign, Channel 4 replaced Boris Johnson with a melting block of ice during a climate change debate perhaps connected to Tory wrath? Or maybe that a Channel 4 executive referred to him as a “known liar” in a speech? Truth can be so hurtful.

Dorries wants to sell off the family silver

Principally, this matters because Channel 4 is dedicated to public service broadcasting. They serve people as well as profit. We own it. So, basically, Dorries wants to sell off the family silver without consulting the family, leaving an IOU inside the safe and a receipt marked: “No returns”.

She claims sale money will go into creative training. But Channel 4 supports actual jobs – plus 100,000 training places – not the never-never land. Small independent companies will suffer.

Dorries also claims public ownership is preventing competition with Netflix and Amazon. But Netflix and Amazon programmes target the global market. Channel 4 programmes mainly target the domestic market. Confuse their USPs and it will be like M&S trying to flog tweed skirts to teenagers.

Estimates suggest the sale is worth a billion pounds. The most likely scenario is that a commercial buyer would come from abroad, removing any public service necessity from its broadcasting rationale.

Nadine, you are the weakest link

Along with a reverence for profit, goes a disdain for the diversity, creative standards, risk-taking, and geographical equality that Channel 4 has cultivated. It’s depressing cultural vandalism.

If I’m a Celeb is her best shot at cultural acumen, why bother?

No wonder media royalty, including Sir David Attenborough, dubbed the plans “shortsighted political and financial attacks” on British public service broadcasting. His nephew, Michael Attenborough – son of the late Sir Richard Attenborough, former Channel 4 chairman – said his father would be “turning in his grave”.

Veteran broadcaster David Attenborough (left) has strongly opposed the proposed sale of Channel 4 (Photo: Alex Board/PA)

Dorries was sanctioned for her absence from the Commons during I’m a Celebrity, her party taking the view that “You’re a Politician… Get Yourself in Here!” If this is her best shot at cultural acumen, why bother?

Send her back to the jungle to shore up British television schedules with more cockroaches and ostrich anus. Or, to use another of the slogans we are in danger of being over-exposed to: “Nadine, you are the weakest link – goodbye.”


Catherine Deveney is an award-winning investigative journalist, novelist and television presenter

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