Cronyism fears as businessman Sir Ian Cheshire is appointed head of Channel 4 | Channel 4

Ministers have been accused of another case of cronyism over the appointment of Channel 4’s new chairman. Veteran businessman Sir Ian Cheshire has been chosen to oversee the broadcaster, which has been plagued by rumors that it would be privatized.

Cheshire, a former chief executive of B&Q owner Kingfisher, served on a trade task force for former Prime Minister David Cameron. He also oversaw the selection process under which Conservative donor Ben Goldsmith was appointed to the board of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. He is chairman of Goldsmith’s investment company.

Cheshire’s appointment was met with surprise and concern by leading broadcast personalities. Two acclaimed former Channel 4 names, news presenter Jon Snow and Dorothy Byrne, the former head of news and current affairs, were among those appealing to the new chairman to protect the channel’s public service mission business for 40 years.

“We have to hope Sir Ian puts the public good first and is not just an arm of the Tory government,” Byrne said. “In a world where there is a lot of money for costume dramas, we must not forget that wider distribution is vital for democracy.”

Cheshire, 62, is a recent trade adviser to Whitehall and has previously backed mainstream Conservative policies. Until January 2020 he was Chairman of Barclays UK. He is credited with turning around Kingfisher plc, of which he was chief executive until 2015, after a radical restructuring.

Channel 4 is publicly owned but funded by advertising. Its privatization has long been in the sights of prominent members of the Conservative Party. This weekend’s appointment sparked fresh fears that public ownership of the commercial channel remains under threat.

Lucy Powell, the shadow Culture Secretary, has accused Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries of ‘appointing a ‘yes man’ to pave the way for the sale of a major UK broadcaster in the face of stiff opposition in the independent production sector, as well as Conservative backbenchers”.

Jon Snow says he hopes Cheshire will protect the chain’s public service forces. Photo: Hayley Barlow/Channel 4 News/PA

Cheshire’s appointment follows last month’s controversial announcement that Tory peer Michael Grade will be the new chairman of Ofcom, the national broadcast and communications technology watchdog. Lord Grade has been openly skeptical of the value of public service status on television.

Approval of Grade’s appointment last week led to an unexpected intervention from the Conservative chairman of Parliament’s broadcasting oversight committee. In an official statement, MP Julian Knight said: “The nomination process appears to be broken.

Grade, who chaired ITV, the BBC and Pinewood Shepperton over a long career, was quizzed last week by members of Knight’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport committee about his knowledge of the digital world and telecommunications .

“The fact that the DCMS [the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport] only took a few hours to set aside our concerns, it shows once again that there are serious underlying issues at play here,” Knight said, adding that despite the committee’s concerns, he wished the best to Grade and to Orlando Fraser, who has just been appointed chairman of the Charity Commission.

“They both have tremendous work to do, and the committee will be there to review and help,” Knight concluded.

Both nominations were quickly approved by the Culture Department, although Knight’s committee did not formally endorse Fraser and raised concerns about Grade’s “obvious lack of depth” on the topics of social media and social media. online security.

Powell said the Cheshire and Grade appointments meant key media jobs went to the government’s political allies. “Having just come on the heels of the appointment of a Tory peer to head Ofcom, this decision stinks even more of cronyism,” she said. “Rather than advancing their war on Channel 4, a big driver of creative employment outside London, the Tories should focus on independent appointees who can get the job done.”

Jamie Stone, the Lib Dem culture spokesman, said there was an urgent need for “fiercely independent media like Channel 4” and added: “Given this government’s long standing determination to sell Channel 4, a great British achievement, to their wealthy friends in the city, this appointment needs careful consideration.

Endorsing Cheshire for the Channel 4 role, Dorries said he had “an impressive track record leading some of Britain’s biggest companies”.

Snow, speaking on Saturday, hoped Cheshire would confound expectations and protect “the chain’s public service forces”.

“I can’t believe the government has time to think about privatizing Channel 4 now, but unfortunately it seems to be drifting. Sir Ian would have to have no interest in broadcasting to be in favor of privatization. So let’s hope he’s interested.

Byrne, who is now president of Murray Edwards College, Cambridge, said the right new chairman of Channel 4 should have the kind of business experience that can “help find new business models to sustain its public service broadcasting. Ideally, this would be someone technically and digitally savvy, so it’s a surprising nomination from a business perspective. We hope Sir Ian will learn. It is vital that it puts the interests of the public first and protects Channel 4’s role in reflecting Britain’s diversity.

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