Channel 4 has revealed it was put under pressure by Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries’ department to look at how it worded references to its future finances in its annual report following the department’s decision to explore privatisation.
Appearing before the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, the broadcaster’s chief executive Dr Alex Mahon was asked to explain why there were delays to publishing its annual report.
“It was suggested there were some differences in opinion over future financial sustainability,” she explained, adding that it was “the first time to my knowledge in 40 years that there have been queries”.
Dr Mahon said the DCMS has now agreed the original report can be submitted to parliament as it is.
While plans to privatise Channel 4 have now been thrown into doubt following the collapse of Boris Johnson‘s government, she told the Committee: “I don’t have a view on whether legislation will go through.”
While some have speculated the privatisation plans could be dropped, she said she hadn’t been made aware of what any of the Conservative leadership contenders’ intentions are for Channel 4 or what the changes might mean for the broadcaster.
“They’ve got a lot on their plate – I’m not sure we’re top of their list.”
Dr Mahon was also asked to update the DCMS on the channel’s investigation into claims the culture secretary made to the DCMS in May about her appearance on 2010 reality show Tower Block of Commons.
Dorries, who was one of a number of MPs who went to live in deprived communities, told parliament she’d been made aware that the show had used paid actors to play real people, something the production company behind the show strongly denies.
“An accusation of fakery was made and it’s really important we look at that properly,” Dr Mahon told the committee.
“From what I’ve seen there’s no evidence…but it’s important we report back properly and we will release a statement later in the week.”
When asked to comment on how serious an issue it would be if Dorries had lied to parliament, she explained: “We are here to deliver programmes that are true and correct. It’s my job to do a proper investigation… It’s not for me to comment on what happens if things aren’t upheld.”
During the select committee hearing it also emerged that the broadcaster was only made aware of the Culture Secretary’s intention to look at privatisation “a number of minutes before” she tweeted.
Dr Mahon denied that it indicated a “substantial breakdown” in communication with the government.
“It probably indicates a decision being made and communicated rapidly,” she told the committee.
A DCMS spokesperson said: “As the owner of Channel 4, the government is fully entitled to comment on the contents of its annual report.
“During the normal process of discussion we highlighted that some language in the report could be interpreted as going against the corporation’s commitment, given to both officials and ministers, to refrain from campaigning against privatisation.
“It is the government’s job to take a long term view on how to best secure the most successful future for Channel 4 in a rapidly changing media landscape and we believe private ownership will give the broadcaster the tools to innovate and grow at pace.”