Nadine Dorries’ first appearance before a select committee as Culture Secretary yielded a number of eyebrow-raising moments – not least her surprising assertions about the funding of Channel 4.
Dorries is in the midst of deciding what to do with the broadcaster: two of her predecessors, Oliver Dowden and John Whittingdale, had both mooted privatisation; earlier this month Dorries pushed back a deadline for responding to submissions. At the hearing, she said the consultation will focus on “how Channel 4 will survive in the future”.
A lot of people are awaiting an answer: Dorries has previously said she has 60,000 submissions to wade through. So imagine the surprise of culture select committee member Damian Green when, in response to his question about why politicians are involving themselves in what is essentially a private sector enterprise, Dorries answered by pointing out that “just because it’s in receipt of public money [it doesn’t mean] we should never audit the future of Channel 4”.
Startled, Green interrupted to point out Channel 4 is “not like the BBC, it’s not in receipt of licence fee money”.
Dorries engaged in some Johnsonian floundering. “Aaaand,” she stammered. “Sooo… although it’s… yeah. And…”.
Admittedly, as Dorries herself pointed out, she has only been in her post for eight weeks – so perhaps we should excuse her lack of knowledge about Channel 4, which was established by an act of parliament in 1980. The channel is now ultimately owned by Dorries’ department, but is funded entirely through advertising revenue. Last year it made a £74m pre-tax surplus (the company is not-for-profit).
Or perhaps Dorries is simply more of an ITV girl: after all, who better to run the nation’s cultural institutions than a former I’m A Celebrity contestant?