As the government faces a backlash – even from its own party – about the proposed privatisation of Channel 4, people have pointed out how the minister in charge of the sell-off lacked a rudimentary understanding of the broadcaster’s funding model.
The channel was launched in 1982 as a publicly-owned, commercially-funded public service broadcaster with a remit to deliver content to under-served audiences.
It does not receive public funding but is ultimately owned by the state, with all money it makes from advertising going back into the broadcaster. This pays for commissions all of its programmes from independent producers.
But culture secretary Nadine Dorries didn’t seem to fully grasp this in November when being questioned about Channel 4′s future at a select committee hearing.
She claimed the broadcaster was in “receipt of public money”.
Addressing how the government is considering selling off the channel after opening a public consultation into its future, Dorries said: “I would argue that to say that, just because Channel 4's 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.”
Fellow Tory MP Damian Green then frowned and said: “Channel 4 is not like the BBC, it’s not in receipt of licence fee money.”
In response, she replied: “And...so... though it’s...yeah and that...”
After the clip resurfaced, SNP MP John Nicolson, who sits on the committee, said: “Toe curlingly embarrassing.
“And yet Nadine Dorries now feels qualified to tell programme makers at Channel 4 what’s best for their industry.
“Of course we all know the real agenda – revenge against a fearless and independent public service broadcaster.”
And a Tory MP appeared to be making the same mistake on Tuesday – and was put right by Thick Of It creator Armando Iannucci.
On Monday, Dorries said she wanted the broadcaster to remain a “cherished place in British life”, but felt that government ownership was “holding Channel 4 back from competing against streaming giants like Netflix and Amazon”.
“I will seek to reinvest the proceeds of the sale into levelling up the creative sector, putting money into independent production and creative skills in priority parts of the country – delivering a creative dividend for all,” she added in a tweet.
Former culture secretary Jeremy Hunt and ex-Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson are among the Conservatives to have come out against the plans.
Hunt told Sky News: “I’m not in favour of it because I think that as it stands, Channel 4 provides competition to the BBC on what’s called public service broadcasting — the kinds of programmes that are not commercially viable — and I think it’d be a shame to lose that.”
Davidson, who is now a Tory peer said on Twitter that selling Channel 4 was the “opposite of levelling up”.
Meanwhile, a senior Conservative MP has suggested the government is privatising Channel 4 as “revenge” for its coverage of Brexit.
Julian Knight, the chairman of the Commons digital, culture, media and sport Committee, also said the move might be in response to perceived “personal attacks” on Boris Johnson by the broadcaster.