New Ofcom chief Lord Grade defends BBC royalty branding as ‘regressive’

Newly announced Ofcom chairman Lord Michael Grade said he believed calling the BBC royalty “regressive” was not an opinion but a “statement of fact”.

he 79-year-old Conservative colleague, who has held senior positions at all three of Britain’s major media companies, appears before the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) Committee for “pre-appointment review”.

Such hearings are held to allow selected committees to review the quality of ministerial appointments and assess the candidate’s suitability for the role, knowledge and experience.

Lord Grade has previously advocated the privatization of Channel 4 and recently criticized the BBC’s coverage of events such as the Downing Street parties as “malicious and disrespectful”.

Referring to the BBC royalty debate, he told the DCMS committee: “Let me say straight away that my criticism of the royalty was aimed at the fact that, at the time of the last agreement, their news bulletins were quite full, and rightly so, of stories about the increasing use of food banks, distress across the country, people having to choose between heating and eating – to use the Soundbite.

“And there they were, another part of the BBC, asking for more money for the license fee. As a former BBC Chairman and friend of the BBC, sometimes a critical friend, I thought that was wrong and wanted to say so.”

He added: “I have referred to the royalty as regressive. I didn’t take that as an opinion but as a statement of fact.”

Referring to Channel 4 and whether it should be privatised, Lord Grade said: “As for Channel 4, that is my opinion. I fought privatization twice as chief executive of Channel 4 – once with Mrs Thatcher and once with John Major.

“I would say the world has changed. Back then there were only four channels and BSB and Sky were broke, so it was a whole different world.”

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Former Daily Mail editor Paul Dacre was also in the running for the Ofcom role (Iain Crockart/DMGT/PA)

The media executive said he had not been asked to apply for the role of Ofcom chairman and had been encouraged to do so in part because of his interest in the online safety law.

Asked if he could be impartial as head of media regulation, Lord Grade said: “Ofcom’s enviable reputation as a regulator is based on its processes, its judgments – its decisions are based on evidence and research.

“And so leave your opinion on the door when you arrive at Ofcom. You must leave your opinion at the door.

“Having spent a lifetime broadcasting at the highest level I have views like everyone but you leave those behind when you come to Ofcom.”

Former Daily Mail editor Paul Dacre was reportedly Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s preferred choice for the Ofcom role during the initial interviews, but he withdrew from the process and it was subsequently carried out again.

Lord Grade said: “Paul and I have had our struggles over the years when he was editor of the Daily Mail and I ran Channel 4 so I know him quite well as an opponent from those days.

“But the fact that there was a vacancy to coincide with my growing interest in the Online Safety Bill – the two things came together. And I felt it was going to be a very fair and open competition.”

During his career, Lord has been Grade Controller of BBC One, Chief Executive of Channel 4, Chairman of the BBC and Executive Chairman of ITV plc.

He currently sits as a Conservative peer in the House of Lords, having been appointed by David Cameron in 2011.

If confirmed as Ofcom chairman, he will move to the cross-banks and relinquish any non-executive roles that could create a conflict of interest.

He was named for the position after a lengthy recruitment process branded by Labor as “messy and frankly embarrassing”. New Ofcom chief Lord Grade defends BBC royalty branding as ‘regressive’

Fry Electronics Team

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