Update 1 April: Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries has confirmed Michael Grade will be the next Ofcom chair following his appearance in front of MPs on Thursday.
His tenure will run between 1 May 2022 and 30 April 2026 and he will earn £142,500 for the three-day-a-week role.
MPs on the DCMS Committee said they were “impressed” by Michael Grade’s appearance in front of them, saying he “clearly has the character and gravitas for the role”.
They said he brought a lot of experience from the media and broadcast world and approved of his promise to keep his opinions at the door at stay out of conversations around the BBC licence fee and Channel 4 privatisation.
But they said he would need support around online issues after he admitted he does not use social media. They acknowledged that it would be difficult to find a candidate with experience and knowledge of Ofcom’s entire remit.
Committee chair Julian Knight said: “He will bring a wealth of experience and knowledge of the broadcasting sector to the job, but when talking about social media he seemed to be on more shaky ground.
“While he recognises the importance of Ofcom’s soon-to-be enhanced role in tackling harmful content online, he may need support and advice to make sure he’s up to speed on how the regulator best keeps people safe in the ever-changing online world.”
Original story 31 March: The newly announced Ofcom chair has vowed to “leave his opinions at the door” after sharing “strong” views on “woke warriors”, Channel 4 privatisation and the BBC licence fee.
Michael Grade, a Conservative peer and the Government’s newly announced preferred candidate to lead the broadcast regulator, also told MPs on the DCMS Committee that he does not use social media, despite being in line to lead the organisation tasked with regulating the tech platforms.
A nearly 50-year veteran of the media industry, 79-year-old Grade has previously accused Ofcom staff of being “woke warriors”, expressed support for controversial anti-lockdown campaigner Laurence Fox, suggested that Channel 4 should be privatised and that the BBC licence fee was “regressive”.
Asked by committee members whether those opinions would influence his tenure as Ofcom chair, Grade said: “Ofcom’s enviable reputation as a regulator is based on their processes, their adjudications are based on evidence and research, and therefore you leave your opinions at the door when you arrive at Ofcom.”
He added: “I have strong opinions sometimes… One single person’s opinion in Ofcom, whether it’s my opinion or other members of the board, will contribute to the debate, but one voice is not powerful in Ofcom nor should it ever be, certainly not the chairman’s voice.”
Grade also repeatedly said that his “opinions are irrelevant”
Grade, a former chief executive of Channel 4, has backed the proposed privatisation of the broadcaster. He said on Thursday: “As far as Channel 4 is concerned, that is my opinion. I fought privatisation twice as chief executive of Channel 4 – once with Mrs Thatcher and once with John Major.
“I would say that the world has changed. There were only four channels in those days and BSB and Sky were broke, so it was a very different world.”
He added: “I thought it was important to point out the importance of scale in the current media environment. It’s very difficult to survive if you’re very small and you’re not allowed to own content.”
Asked whether he used any social media himself, Grade said that he did not use Facebook, Instagram, Tiktok or Twitter, but does use Whatsapp to communicate with family members.
He said: “I wouldn’t say I have no experience. I have three kids. I have a 23-year-old student son who is never off his screen… I do understand the dynamics.”
Grade said Ofcom had to improve its diversity, particularly on the executive board.
He said: “It’s clear to me that there’s a problem at the main board level, a distinct lack of diversity. And whilst appointments are not in the gift of Ofcom I will be pushing very hard that there is a seriously diverse list of candidates from which to choose.”
The Government’s previous preferred candidate for Ofcom chair was reportedly former Daily Mail editor Paul Dacre but he withdrew from consideration last year, blaming “the toxic hatred of Brexit that is so palpable among the people who really run this country” for his decision.
Grade revealed that he made the decision to apply for the role after the process was reopened due to his interest in the Online Safety Bill and ensuring Ofcom is ready to provide “effective regulation” of the tech giants. He said he had not been asked to apply by the Government.
“It hadn’t occurred to me to apply until I started to think hard about the Online Safety Bill which seemed to me to be a seriously important piece of business… and I thought why not? I’ll have a go,” Grade said.
On taking on tech giants, he added: “I think the laws of nature suggest they will resist regulation. They’re used to having their own way, it is a wild west in a sense… The time has come for effective regulation. And I think Britain is at the forefront of this.”
During his career, Grade has been chief executive of Channel 4, chairman of the BBC and executive chairman of ITV.