EXCLUSIVE: Channel 4 may have escaped privatization, but in at least one respect it remains at the mercy of ministers.
The UK commercial broadcaster is waiting on the government to approve the hire of four new board members after a recruitment process that has dragged on for almost a year.
People close to the process hope it will be resolved soon amid pressure to inject diversity into a Channel 4 non-executive team that has been all-white since January 2022.
Ofcom, which oversees the recruitment of Channel 4 board members, engaged headhunters last October to search for four non-executive directors, but the process has been repeatedly delayed and ministers are still yet to rubber stamp preferred candidates.
The government first asked Ofcom to pause the board hires last December as the sale of Channel 4 was ditched after Rishi Sunak became the UK’s fifth prime minister in six years.
Ministers had to extend by nine months the terms of Roly Keating, the former BBC executive who now runs the British Library, and Paul Geddes, who used to lead insurance company Direct Line.
The recruitment process was held up again in February, with Ofcom board minutes citing Sunak’s cabinet reshuffle, in which Lucy Frazer became Britain’s 12th culture secretary in 13 years, as the reason for the delay.
Executive search company Russell Reynolds Associates finally set to work in April, advertising the four Channel 4 board positions, which come with a £22,177 ($27,700) salary.
Final interviews were conducted in July and Deadline understands that Ofcom has put forward preferred candidates to the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport.
One source familiar with the process said it can take months for individuals to be signed off by the government. “They can’t keep their hands off,” this person said.
Ministers have shown in recent years that they are prepared to veto Channel 4 board members.
They blocked the reappointment of The King’s Speech director Tom Hooper, film producer Uzma Hasan, and Althea Efunshile, an experienced public sector executive who was the last remaining non-white person on the Channel 4 board.
Channel 4 insiders have said it would be “scandalous” if the government does not approve non-white candidates. Sources added that diversity has been “big priority” for Ofcom.
Channel 4 has an explicit responsibility to elevate “unheard voices” from diverse communities, meaning an all-white board is out of step with the broadcaster’s mission.
A Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport insider said ministers hope to announce the new board appointments “as soon as possible.”
A spokesperson said: “Ofcom is currently recruiting for vacancies on the Channel 4 board. As established under the terms of the Broadcasting Act, it is for the culture secretary to approve names at the conclusion of this process.”
Channel 4’s board is chaired by Sir Ian Cheshire, the former chief executive of retail group Kingfisher. He was appointed in April last year.