Over a month after her shock Culture Secretary appointment amid a dramatic cabinet reshuffle, Nadine Dorries (pictured, right) has at last met with the CEO of the U.K.’s “It’s a Sin” broadcaster Channel 4, which Boris Johnson’s government has threatened to put on the sales block.
Variety can reveal that Channel 4 boss Alex Mahon (pictured, left) met this week with Dorries in what was the pair’s first meeting since the latter MP took over from Oliver Dowden as Culture Secretary. Sources say the meeting was amicable, with one senior figure saying it inspired some confidence that the government would consider all options before moving ahead with potential privatization.
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Channel 4, which declined to comment on the Mahon-Dorries meeting, could be fully or partially sold off as per a proposal by the government, with interested parties like ITV and media company Miroma already appointing bankers to oversee a sale. Davis Zaslav’s Discovery is also understood to be a potential bidder.
The public-service broadcaster was set up by Margaret Thatcher’s administration in 1982 and is commercially funded but publicly owned. In recent years, the government has deemed the model as no longer fit-for-purpose, and has made clear that its “preferred option” is for a change in ownership that could give the channel “greater access to new strategic and investment opportunities.”
An industry-wide consultation opened in July seeded a groundswell of support for Channel 4 across the film and TV sector, with high-profile actors and producers chiming in on how essential the broadcaster is to the wider cultural landscape. The process closed on Sept. 14, and the next step is a government-issued white paper outlining its findings from the consultation.
This document had been expected to come down in November, but Variety understands that the Department of Culture, Media and Sport is still sifting through submissions made during the process, and that the white paper may be delayed.
A DCMS spokesperson told Variety: “We are now analyzing the responses to the consultation and will publish a government response in due course. No decisions have yet been made.”
When the white paper materializes, the privatization of Channel 4 will then be debated by government ministers.
While Dorries — who is something of a reality star herself, having appeared on ITV and Channel 4 shows as an MP — was initially believed to be more focused on the ongoing firestorm surrounding the BBC license fee model, which largely funds Britain’s public broadcaster, initial public comments about Channel 4 suggest she may be pro-privatization.
Speaking on a recent podcast by newspaper The Telegraph, Dorries said: “Channel 4 is in a good place at the moment, but if it wants to grow and be successful, then it needs to change. One of the one of the obvious ways of doing that is for C4 to be privatized.”
However, Culture Minister Julia Lopez — who is also part of the DCMS — suggested a more muted approach in a Lords Communications and Digital committee last week, pointing out that, were the government to proceed with a sale, it “would look not just at money [on offer] but at the broader question of value, and what is offered by any potential buyer in terms of the public service remit. We’d consider that alongside the price proposed.”
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