Just 45 minutes before Oliver Dowden addressed the British television industry at the Royal Television Society conference in Cambridge, the Culture Secretary was replaced in a shocking cabinet reshuffle that helped produce one of the most puzzling media moments in recent memory.
Dowden has been replaced by Nadine Dorries (pictured), author and MP for Mid Bedfordshire since 2005. Dorries was most recently Minister for Mental Health, Suicide Prevention and Patient Safety. But in a bizarre twist, she’s probably best known in the UK for a controversial 12-day stint on ITV’s reality juggernaut “I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here!” in 2012.
Dorries, however, is perhaps better equipped to understand the nuances of Channel 4’s philosophy than most of her predecessors: she actually appeared on the broadcaster in 2010 as part of an episode of “Tower Block for the Commons, ”which featured weekly MPs in a variety of underfunded housing estates.
Dowden was set to be the long-awaited final session of a busy first day at Wednesday’s annual conference. The press had been informed on Tuesday evening of what the Secretary of Culture was to say – a speech which would outline the financial benefits of the privatization of the broadcaster “Great British Bake Off” Channel 4.
On Wednesday morning, however, news broke of a brewing cabinet reshuffle that could see Dowden move to another department, with early rumors suggesting he would replace Gavin Williamson as Education Secretary. Hours later, the government appointed Dowden minister without portfolio, meaning he has cabinet status but has no specific responsibilities.
Dowden – whose session was supposed to follow a speech by Channel 4 CEO Alex Mahon – immediately withdrew from RTS Cambridge, confusing media and delegates as to whether government would be represented in any way whether at the conference.
In his place, MP John Whittingdale, former Secretary of Culture and one of the first engineers of the government’s privatization bid for Channel 4, delivered Dowden’s speech via Zoom – a scenario that made delegates laugh. which, as one reporter put it, “were I’m not sure who was going to appear on screen.
As Whittingdale addressed delegates, the government also issued new rules designed to “protect ‘uniquely British’ programming”. The new plan effectively expands the types of programs UK public service broadcasters are required to produce and broadcast. It also claims new prominence rules that will require PSB content to be shown on online TV platforms, including smart TVs, pay TV services, streaming sticks and set-top boxes.
A white paper, distributed later this year, will outline the specific requirements.
Channel 4’s Mahon, whose session coincided with the appointment of Nadine Dorries, was asked about the new Culture Secretary – who will have an important role to play in the channel’s future – by a reporter in the audience . “She certainly knows something about TV and production, but honestly I haven’t had time to digest it and honestly probably neither does she,” said a bemused Mahon, who joked that the This year’s RTS conference was effectively “Reshuffle Live”.
Dowden’s departure as Culture Secretary comes just a day after the government closed its consultation on the privatization of Channel 4, which sought industry advice on the proposal.
The cloud of privatization – which would significantly alter the mandate of Channel 4, a public not-for-profit corporation formed by former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in 1982 – has hung over the broadcaster in recent years and has been strained. relief this week.