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UK government confirms Michael Grade as preferred candidate to chair media regulator OfCom

By | Published on Friday 25 March 2022


The UK government has announced that TV industry veteran Michael Grade is its choice to chair the country’s media regulator OfCom. The announcement follows a long-drawn out and at times controversial search for a new chair, with the latest OfCom overseer being appointed just as the regulator is set to gain new powers over digital platforms as part of the Online Safety Bill.

Grade – who has previously held top jobs at the BBC, ITV and Channel 4 – is not as controversial an appointment as a previous frontrunner for the job, former Daily Mail editor Paul Dacre. Though that’s not to say he’s a completely uncontroversial choice.

Despite his previous senior roles at state owned broadcasters the BBC and Channel 4, he has more recently been critical of the former while also backing the proposed privatisation of the latter.

Plus, he is a member of the House Of Lords allied to the Conservative Party, which makes him feel like somewhat of a political appointment at a regulator which, among many other things, is meant to ensure the political impartiality of broadcast media in the UK. Though, once appointed into the OfCom chair job, Grade would become a so called cross-bencher in the House Of Lords, not formally allied to any party.

Nevertheless, all those points are sure to be brought up when Grade is questioned by Parliament’s Digital, Culture, Media And Sport Select Committee, which will now scrutinise the proposed appointment at a date still to be confirmed.

Announcing that Grade is the government’s preferred candidate for the OfCom chair role, Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries said yesterday: “I am delighted to announce that Lord Grade is the government’s preferred candidate to be the new chair of OfCom. Lord Grade’s experience at the highest level of a number of broadcasters and his expert knowledge of the British media landscape makes him an ideal candidate for this role”.

“Going forward”, she added, “OfCom has an even more important role to play as the UK’s communications regulator. The introduction of the Online Safety Bill will give it new responsibilities and resources to ensure digital platforms tackle illegal and abusive material online. I am confident that under Lord Grade’s leadership OfCom will rise to the challenge with great success”.

Grade himself added: “OfCom is respected across the globe as a first rate communications regulator so I am privileged to be asked to become its chair. The role of OfCom in British life has never been more important with new responsibilities on the horizon regulating online safety, on top of the ever changing broadcasting landscape. I look forward to my appearance in front of the DCMS Select Committee to outline what I can bring to this role and how I can help ensure OfCom is fit for the future”.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, opposition parties were critical of the proposed appointment. Labour’s shadow media minister Chris Elmore MP said the process of recruiting a new chair for the media regulator had been a “chaotic and quite frankly embarrassing example of Tory cronyism and ineptitude”, while Grade is “a Conservative peer who is completely out of touch with the British public”.

“With Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine showing the importance of robust, independent journalism and OfCom poised to be handed more power to govern online platforms”, Elmore added, “the UK’s reputation as a world-leading regulator is being put at risk by the government appointing another party insider”.

Meanwhile, Jamie Stone MP of the Liberal Democrats said: “In the midst of the Ukraine crisis and the past years of pandemic, the chair of OfCom should be a strong independent voice defending the integrity of our iconic public broadcasters – not a card-carrying Conservative critic hurling abuse from the sidelines”.