Michelle Donelan: Channel 4 and BBC licence fee on new Culture Secretary agenda

·3-min read

Michelle Donelan will face the ongoing discussions about the privatisation of Channel 4 and the BBC licence fee, as she steps into the role of UK Culture Secretary.

Ms Donelan has previous experience in the entertainment industry, having worked for The History Channel as well as International Marketing Communications Manager for World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE).

She has been a member of parliament since 2015, and represents the Chippenham constituency, in the south west.

Her role as Secretary of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport is her second cabinet position, having previously been made Education Secretary under Boris Johnson.

However she became the shortest-serving cabinet member in British history, after she resigned less than 36 hours later, as part of a spate of ministerial resignations.

Her new appointment to the Culture Secretary role comes as the chief executive of Producers Alliance for Cinema and Television (Pact), which represents the independent TV production sector, urged a  reconsideration of the privatisation of Channel 4.

Ms Donelan’s predecessor Nadine Dorries announced the Government’s intention to privatise the broadcaster earlier this year.

The Government argued the broadcaster will struggle to survive in a media landscape increasingly dominated by big streaming giants such as Netflix.

Pact chief executive officer John McVay said it would be a “nonsensical” decision to proceed with taking the broadcaster, which is entirely funded by advertising, out of public ownership.

Ms Donelan will also inherit issues surrounding the review of the BBC license fee.

The Government’s plans to replace the broadcaster’s funding model were previously described as a “massive red herring” to attack the BBC by Jon Thoday, joint founder and co-executive chairman of production company Avalon.

Downing Street turmoil
Ms Donelan’s role as Secretary of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport is her second cabinet position, after less than two days as Education Secretary (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

In January Ms Dorries announced that the licence fee would be frozen at £159 for the next two years until April 2024.

Ms Dorries said she wanted to find a new funding model before the current deal expires in 2027 as it is “completely outdated”.

The review was due to begin before the Commons summer recess on July 22 but was thrown into doubt after Mr Johnson’s resignation as Tory leader.

In response to the remarks made by Mr Thoday, a DCMS spokesperson said: “The BBC’s funding model needs to be made more sustainable for the future, as it already faces major challenges including radical changes in the way people consume media.

“We have committed to reviewing the licence fee funding model ahead of the next Charter period to explore the potential for alternative ways to fund the BBC.”

Prior to her short-lived cabinet role Ms Donelan’s parliamentary experience includes serving on the Education Select Committee for three years, before entering the Government in the Whips Office in 2018.

She then spent three years in the Department of Education, first as Children and Families Minister, then Minister of State for Universities.

In 2021 Ms Donelan was promoted to Higher and Further Education Minister, attending cabinet in 2021, and was sworn into the Privy Council.

In her spare time she enjoys walking her dog Bella in the Wiltshire countryside, according to her official parliamentary bio.