Privatisation Looms as Sir Ian Cheshire Appointed Channel 4 Chair

Dan Meier 04 April, 2022 

Sir Ian Cheshire has been named the new chair of Channel 4 and will take over from interim chair Dawn Airey on 11th April, Ofcom has confirmed.

The British businessman holds extensive experience in both the public and private sectors, including executive roles at B&Q and Barclays, as well as positions at the Cabinet Office and Ecosystem Markets Task Force.

Private views

The decision has rekindled debate about the government’s plans to privatise the broadcaster, a move currently under consideration by Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) secretary Nadine Dorries. Given Cheshire’s close ties to the Conservative party, some see his appointment as paving the way for privatisation.

Former Channel 4 news anchor Jon Snow expressed concerns over the government’s fixation on privatisation. “I can’t believe the government has time to think about the privatisation of Channel 4 now, but unfortunately that seems to be the drift,” he said. “Sir Ian would have to have no interest in broadcasting to be in favour of privatisation. So let’s hope he does have an interest in it.”

Dorothy Byrne, the former Head of News and Current Affairs, agreed that the new Channel 4 chair has a responsibility to “maintain its public service broadcasting. Ideally, that would be somebody who is technical and digitally savvy, so this is a surprising appointment from the business perspective. We hope Sir Ian will learn. It is vital that he puts the interests of the public first and protects Channel 4’s role in reflecting the diversity of Britain.”

Broken news

A key Conservative ally, Cheshire’s appointment has also prompted fresh accusations of government cronyism, following the recent appointments of Tory peer Michael Grade and former Conservative candidate Orlando Frasier to chair Ofcom and the Charity Commission respectively.

Shadow DCMS secretary Lucy Powell accused Dorries of “appointing a ‘yes man’ to pave the way for the sell-off of a great British broadcaster” and argued that the move “stinks of more cronyism.” Julian Knight MP, Conservative chair of the DCMS Committee, said: “The appointments process feels broken.”

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