There is a dispute regarding the involvement of the government in appointing management positions at Channel 4. The government has prevented a woman from a minority ethnic group from joining the board of the broadcaster.
Ofcom has recommended Rozina Breen, a previous top executive at BBC who currently heads the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, as their top choice for one of the five available positions as a non-executive director at Channel 4.
Ofcom is in charge of selecting and approving Channel 4’s non-executive directors. However, there was an unexpected decision made by culture secretary Lucy Frazer, who has the ultimate authority in appointments. She rejected Breen without explanation, as first reported by Deadline. Out of the five newly appointed non-executive directors on Monday, four are white, leading to criticism from Channel 4’s chair, Sir Ian Cheshire, who stated that the choices did not meet the broadcaster’s diversity goals.
One of the five individuals chosen is the leader of Boots, Sebastian James, who attended the prestigious Eton school and was a member of the Bullingdon Club with Lord Cameron, with whom he has vacationed.
According to a memo shared internally and initially reported by the Telegraph, Cheshire stated that these new appointments will help increase diversity on the board. However, the organization as a whole still needs to make more progress in terms of representation. While we do not have complete control over board appointments due to procedural reasons, we remain dedicated to advocating for continued progress.
The latest additions to the board also consist of industry expert Dame Annette King, managing director of Warner Records UK Alex Burford, and businesswoman Debbie Wosskow. The technology entrepreneur Tom Adeyoola is the sole minority representation in the appointments.
Approximately 93% of the members on Channel 4’s board are white, with only one member being from an ethnic minority group. In contrast, the company’s workforce is made up of 18% individuals from ethnically diverse backgrounds, but they have set a goal to increase this number to 20%.
On Monday, four individuals were appointed to the broadcaster’s board for three-year periods, and Burford is set to begin in June. The executive search firm Russell Reynolds was responsible for conducting the recruitment process.
Cheshire sat on a recruitment panel that interviewed candidates, which was headed by the Ofcom chair, Lord Grade, who is also a former Channel 4 boss.
Breen, who was employed by the BBC for 13 years and held the position of head of north, stated to Deadline: “There were specific requirements and a designated procedure for applying. If someone is recommended by Ofcom as a potential candidate and then appears to be rejected by the culture secretary, it seems unclear and concerning.”
In 2016, the government faced criticism for preventing Althea Efunshile, a previous high-ranking employee at Arts Council England, from being appointed to Channel 4’s board.
After facing criticism, she was chosen for the position, but in 2021, the government rejected her rehiring, along with film producer Uzma Hasan, resulting in an entirely white board for Channel 4.
The Department for Culture, Media and Sport stated that they are fully dedicated to promoting fairness in their public appointments. This is to ensure that the boards of public bodies have a diverse range of perspectives and accurately represent the people they serve.
“Ofcom selected members for the Channel 4 board through a fair and transparent process, with the DCMS secretary of state’s approval.”
Channel 4 has announced that it will be reducing its workforce of 1,200 employees in order to speed up its transition to streaming. This decision comes amidst a significant decline in TV advertising, the worst in 15 years. The Guardian first reported that approximately 200 jobs will be affected by these redundancies. This move is in preparation for financial losses over the next two years, after experiencing three years of profits until 2022. To manage its budget, the broadcaster has reduced its commissioning.
Last year, the government gave up on its proposal to privatize Channel 4 due to resistance from the majority of the media sector.