Ministers kick off hunt for next Channel 4 chair amid privatisation battle

The government is about to kick off a search for the next chairman of Channel 4 amid tensions over the state-owned broadcaster’s future.

Sky News has learnt that Ofcom, the media regulator, is to begin advertising for a successor to Charles Gurassa, who has held the role since 2016, in the coming weeks.

The process, which is expected to take several months, will commence weeks after Mr Gurassa made an outspoken attack on ministers’ proposed privatisation of the channel.

In a letter to Oliver Dowden, the culture secretary, he said the prospective sell-off “leaves us as a board deeply concerned given our statutory responsibility to deliver Channel 4‘s remit”.

Image: Charles Gurassa was appointed non-executive chair in January 2016. Pic: Channel 4

“Indeed, we have serious concerns that the consequences will be very harmful, both to the UK’s creative economy and to the choice and breadth of distinctive British-made content available to UK audiences,” Mr Gurassa wrote.


“Without a transparent assessment of the implications of such a decision, the government is in danger of sleepwalking into the irreversible and risky sale of an important, successful, and much-loved, British institution.”

Mr Gurassa will step down in January, at the end of his second three-year term.

More from Business Bank of England warns inflation may rise to 10-year high in coming months COVID-19: Why the Bank of England is so optimistic on coronavirus recovery Mike Ashley: Sports Direct founder to step down as boss of Frasers Group retail empire next year COVID-19: Number of NHS ‘pingdemic’ app alerts drops by 43% in a week after update to identify fewer contacts of positive cases Drugs firms Pfizer and Flynn broke law with 2,600% price increase for epilepsy tablets to NHS, UK watchdog finds Serco profits soar by a third amid increased demand for Test and Trace services

Sources in Whitehall and close to Channel 4 emphasised that his impending departure was unconnected to any disagreement about its future ownership.

While Ofcom is responsible for conducting the search for board members of Channel 4 under the 1990 Broadcasting Act, appointable candidates have to be signed off by Mr Dowden.

A Channel 4 spokesman said it had always been anticipated that there would be a search process for a new chairman this year owing to the expiry of Mr Gurassa’s tenure in January.

The imminent vacancy will nevertheless present the government with the opportunity to appoint an individual who is more politically aligned to it – as has been the case with other chairmanships overseen by Mr Dowden’s department during the last year.

Richard Sharp, a former Goldman Sachs banker and close ally of Boris Johnson, was named as the new BBC chairman, while George Osborne, the former chancellor, recently landed the plum culture post of chairing the British Museum.

A Whitehall insider said the selection process for Mr Gurassa’s successor would involve an assessment panel comprising Ofcom’s chair – currently Maggie Carver – and at least two independent panellists.

The choice of Ofcom chair has itself been at the centre of political controversy after Mr Dowden elected to scrap the appointment process in May.

Paul Dacre, the former Daily Mail editor-in-chief, had emerged as Mr Johnson’s preferred candidate for the job but was not recommended by the initial selection panel.

Directors of Channel 4 have also been beset by difficulties, with ministers deciding earlier this year not to renew the terms of two existing non-executives despite recommendations from Ofcom to the contrary.

Ofcom and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport declined to comment on the launch of the recruitment process on Thursday.