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September 7, 2022updated 07 Oct 2022 7:15am

Michelle Donelan: What has the new culture secretary said about media?

By Bron Maher

Liz Truss has appointed Michelle Donelan as the new culture secretary.

The former Sky and WWE marketing manager and education secretary takes over the media brief from Nadine Dorries.

Donelan’s background with the media is not quite as colourful as her predecessor’s: below, Press Gazette rounds up what we know about the new leader of the “Ministry of Fun”.

Who is Michelle Donelan?

Donelan, MP for Chippenham in Wiltshire, entered Parliament in 2015.

She reportedly decided to become a politician at the age of six, and spoke at the Conservative Party Conference aged 15. She told the New Statesman earlier this year she was inspired as a child by seeing Margaret Thatcher on television.

Donelan was appointed education secretary by Boris Johnson in July but lasted less than two days as she joined the wave of resignations within his government.

Before entering politics she worked in marketing at a string of media businesses, beginning with Pacific Magazines in Australia before moving to BSkyB’s History Channel in the UK and then World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE).

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What has Michelle Donelan said about the media?

The new culture secretary has made few public remarks regarding the media, but what she has said is consistent with the policies of her predecessor.

Donelan wrote in local newspaper The Melksham Independent News in 2019 that “I think the licence fee is an unfair tax and should be scrapped altogether”.

In the piece, which attacked the BBC for imposing the licence fee on over-75s, Donelan said she was particularly outraged at the levy on pensioners because “BBC salaries have skyrocketed since 2015 with a huge number of BBC employees earning six or seven-figure salaries funded by the licence fee!”

[Read more: BBC Annual Report 2022 – Stephen Nolan overtakes Huw Edwards as journalist top earner]

In a March 2018 debate on blagging and the Leveson Inquiry, Donelan asked then-Culture Secretary Matt Hancock whether he agreed that Leveson 2 would “not only be very costly and lengthy, but might undermine the freedom of our press”. (Hancock agreed.)

What do we know about the Truss government’s media policies?

New prime minister Liz Truss, for her part, told Mail+ last month that she wanted to look into decriminalising non-payment of the licence fee, and as Foreign Secretary she spoke frequently about keeping the BBC World Service well-funded.

Truss has also said as prime minister she will match rival Rishi Sunak’s promise to create a Digital Markets Unit with the ability to force tech giants to pay publishers for news content – despite previously criticising a Labour proposal to tax big tech to fund “public interest” journalism.

Truss has said she will look at “the business case” for privatising Channel 4 – but “Where possible, it’s best to have companies operating in the private sector”.

Press Gazette is hosting the Future of Media Technology Conference. For more information, visit NSMG.live

[Read more: Truss vs Sunak – What are the Conservative leadership contenders’ plans for media?]

Picture: Reuters/John Sibley

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