Ofcom appointment: process rigged from the start

Jamie Stone has been making his feelings known on the appointment of Michael Grade as Chair of Ofcom. Jamie is our spokesperson for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

He says:

This process has been rigged from the start. Michael Grade’s obvious dislike of his former workplaces BBC and Channel 4 should have ruled him out from the get go.

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.

According to The Guardian:

The Conservative peer – who has held senior executive positions at the BBC, ITV and Channel 4 – will have to face a pre-appointment hearing in front of MPs but is likely to be approved to take the job, finally drawing the process to a close.

The 79-year-old has made a series of public interventions on media policy since applying for the job, including calling the BBC licence fee a “regressive tax” and criticising the tone of the broadcaster’s political coverage.

While chief executive of Channel 4, he campaigned against its privatisation, but has changed his mind in recent years and spoken out in favour of the proposal.

* Mary Reid is a contributing editor on Lib Dem Voice. She was a councillor in Kingston upon Thames, where she is still very active with the local party, and is the Hon President of Kingston Lib Dems.

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15 Comments

  • It’s a funny old world : The Guardian 2 April, 2004,…. “Opposition parties have welcomed the appointment of Michael Grade as chairman of the BBC, with the Liberal Democrat peer Lord McNally comparing it to Winston Churchill’s return to the Admiralty in 1939”.

    Indeed, I once shared a lift with Michael Grade & Paddy Ashdown at a Liberal Parliamentary Candidates briefing session in Oxford in 1982.

  • Jamie Stone is right to say “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.”
    In revoking the licesnse of RT RT License, Ofcom said it did not consider RT (formerly Russia Today) able to comply with impartiality laws in Britain given the current circumstances and its close ties to the Kremlin, declaring it was no longer “fit and proper” for it to hold a licence because the regulator “cannot be satisfied that it can be a responsible broadcaster”.
    Few would argue that the British press is politically independent, although broadcast media is largely seen as impartial, at least as regards domestic politics. In the case of RT its news broadcasts are clearly driven by the Kremlin line, but then so are virtually all state or public broadcasters.
    Censorship of this kind can play into the hands of authoritarian critics. RT is unquestionably a propaganda tool of the Russian state, but so what. No one would suggest that Fox News does not take the republican line in the USA. That does not mean it should be banned from expressing its views.
    I think it is better to know what line adversaries are pushing, rather than blocking out communications. If freedom of the press and freedom of expression is to be protected, then Voltaire’s maxim has to be honored “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

  • Patrick Coleman 25th Mar '22 - 5:51pm

    Technically, it is surely true that the licence fee is a regressive as it takes no account of ability to pay, and takes a higher percentage of income from those on lower incomes than from those on higher incomes. However, noone has yet found a more acceptable way to fund an independent broadcaster in the UK without constant commercial breaks.

  • Brad Barrows 25th Mar '22 - 6:49pm

    @Patrick Coleman
    You are correct that the licence fee is a regressive tax. It is also unfair that people are required by law to pay towards the costs of the BBC even if you never watch its channels or read its online output. I don’t object to CNN being clearly pro-Democrat or Fox News being pro-Republican as I pay towards neither and can turn off if I don’t like anything. With the BBC, I do object to it pushing its political agenda as I am forced to pay towards its costs.

  • Patrick Coleman

    ‘However, noone has yet found a more acceptable way to fund an independent broadcaster in the UK without constant commercial breaks.’

    Not true, subscription, but other options if required could include sponsorship & product placement.

    We are being repeatedly told that the BBC is an icon & almost everyone loves it, so I’m sure people will gladly pay for it in the same way they do for Netflix or other subscription channels that don’t have commercial breaks.

    As was discussed on a previous thread the BBC should be split between BBC Public which would consist of news, parliament & overseas service paid by a grant from the department of culture, media & sport. BBC private (all the rest) would be paid by subscription etc.

    Simply unacceptable in 2022 that people are forced by law to pay for a product they do not watch or like.

  • Jobs for our mates and those who share our agenda. Any attempt to break up the BBC will be met with outrage from me and many others I suspaect. Glad to see that the BBC is fighting back and trupeting its qualites.

  • David Garlick 26th Mar '22 - 10:25am

    trumpeting…

  • @Brad Barrows – It is also unfair that people are required by law to pay towards the costs of the BBC even if you never watch its channels or read its online output.

    That’s true for all government expenditure…
    Remember it is the government that requires people to have a tv licence to watch live TV, not the BBC. The government has allocated some of the tv licence fee monies collected to the BBC, adding to the confusion, the Government has made the BBC responsible for collection of the tv licence monies.

    @john oundle – The trouble is that the BBC provides “free-to-receive” TV and Radio service that doesn’t need expensive decoders. How do you suggest Ukrainians should pay for listening to the BBC World service?
    Funding “The BBC” isn’t quite as easy as some would believe.

  • Mick Taylor 26th Mar '22 - 6:28pm

    Sometimes people on this site are just too libertarian.
    As a Country we need at least one national broadcaster that seeks to tell us the facts and is not the mouthpiece of one side or another or indeed the government. For most of my life that has been the BBC and it is paid for out of taxation. In this case the BBC is funded from the fee (tax) of purchasing permission to receive broadcasts and everyone who has a TV is required to have a licence. The licence fee is the entry fee for all of us to enjoy an independent broadcaster and it’s not something that we could or should be funded in some other sort of way.
    It is neither Liberal or Democratic to undermine the UK’s national independent broadcaster or to reduce its funding in the way the government are or undermine its independence.
    I get heartily sick of people who try to pretend you can fund a national broadcaster from say subscriptions instead of a tax paid by most households. What they really want to do is destroy the BBC, because that would be the effect of their proposals.

  • Roland

    ‘How do you suggest Ukrainians should pay for listening to the BBC World service?’

    If you read my post there is no suggestion for Ukrainians or any other nationality having to pay to listen to the BBC world service, as this would be part of BBC public paid via a grant from the department of culture, media & sport.

  • Barry Lofty 27th Mar '22 - 9:05am

    When right wing anti woke politicians begin trying to change the BBC we should all be worried, the national broadcaster may not be perfect, what ls, but we should be very careful not to throw the baby out with the bathwater!

  • “Michael Grade’s obvious dislike of his former workplaces BBC and Channel 4 should have ruled him out from the get go.”

    If a possible head of a financial regulator was disliked by bankers, would this rule them out of the job?

    If being disliked by participants in an industry you regulate is grounds be ruled out, I suspect we will take the concept of “regulatory capture” to a whole new level. Perhaps there are legitimate reasons to object to Grade, but I’m surprised they couldn’t find any,

  • Malcolm Todd 28th Mar '22 - 1:08pm

    That the licence fee is a regressive tax is blindingly obvious. The excuse usually offered is that it makes the BBC somehow ‘independent’ from government interference as well as from commercial pressures. But this is clearly untrue.
    There might have been a degree of independence gained in the early days since most households didn’t have a radio, or later a TV, so the BBC was able to expand its revenue base by increasing its reach and appeal, so that more people would buy the necessary sets and the necessary licence. (Sounds a bit like a subscription service of its day, doesn’t it?)
    But nowadays – and for a long time since – virtually every household in the country has a TV licence, so there is no opportunity to grow the revenue independently. The only thing that can increase (or reduce) the BBC’s income is a change in the cost of the licence fee (i.e. the level of the household tax). And who sets that? The government, of course.
    What “guarantees” BBC independence from government? Well, self-restraint on the part of the government (ever less in evidence, of course) and the century-old culture of BBC journalism, mostly. The institutional barriers that assist are the Board of Governors, the five-year charter and the (usually) three-year budget settlement that enables the BBC to plan more than a year ahead. None of these would be affected by abolishing the licence fee.

  • Malcolm Todd 28th Mar '22 - 1:09pm

    It doesn’t end there – the other way that government can interfere with BBC funding is by loading costs onto the BBC (to be paid from out of the licence fee) that it previously met from general taxation: hence the kerfuffle over the free licences for over-75s; and a similar trick (less publicised) saw funding of the World Service largely hived off from the Foreign Office to the licence fee. (Incidentally, the World Service was widely lauded for its impartiality even in the days when it was funded from general taxation, and I’ve not heard it said that it’s got better since that link was broken.)

    In short: yes, the BBC should be funded from taxation (as it always has been). No, that should not be by means of the licence fee.

  • Phil Beesley 28th Mar '22 - 2:08pm

    As a teenager in the 1970s, I learned about the French government’s resistance to Anglophone media and seemingly petty rules restricting citizens from observing British and American media. I thought it to be misguided at the time because French films were pretty good whilst French popular music needed an awakening. (It arrived in the 1980s with hip hop.)

    Now I sympathise with French motivations whilst disagreeing with their methodology. I want to maintain British culture, evolve British culture, and that means backing a 21st century BBC. And it is all down to who benefits from running down the BBC.

    Let’s be clear. The powerful media companies who argue that the BBC’s wings need to be clipped, they want the BBC out of the way. Broadcasters who create imaginative “local” content become acquisition targets. If they can’t be bought out, kill them off.

    Years ago, people joked that British TV advertising was more imaginative than some of the programming. Nobody says that anymore. TV adverts have been homogenised with actors speaking in dialect-less but a bit Americanese, with caricature families supposedly showing ethnicity but somehow not families of our multiculture.

    Media companies, in contradiction, want to produce bland international TV and imaginative content. They can’t: see advertising.

    Cui bono.

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