New Ofcom chair Lord Grade may need support tackling social media, MPs conclude

The media executive has been named the Government’s preferred candidate for the role.

01 April 2022

Incoming Ofcom chairman Lord Michael Grade will bring “considerable experience and knowledge of the media sector” but may need support when tackling social media and online safety, according to MPs.

The Conservative peer and media executive, 79, appeared before the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee on Thursday for pre-appointment scrutiny, after the Government announced him as its preferred candidate to lead the media watchdog.

A report issued following the hearing concluded Lord Grade had shown a commitment “to leave his strong opinions aside and resist political pressure”, giving the committee hope he will act independently in the role.

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Lord Grade has previously spoken in favour of the privatisation of Channel 4 and recently criticised the BBC’s coverage of events such as the Downing Street parties as “gleeful and disrespectful”.

However, the cross-party group said it was “concerned” about the candidate’s “clear lack of depth” when talking about social media.

Lord Grade admitted to MPs on Thursday that he does not use Facebook, Instagram or TikTok but claimed he does “understand the dynamics”.

The report added: “However, he appears to understand the importance of Ofcom’s new role in regulating the online space.

“It would be difficult to find a candidate with deep experience across the whole of Ofcom’s remit, and we hope that he will be well supported with the necessary advice to fulfil his role as Chair.”

Concerns were also raised about the department’s commitment to diversity when making such appointments – the shortlist of nine candidates contained three women, one candidate who identified as Bame and one with a declared disability.

Committee chairman Julian Knight said: “Lord Grade impressed during the hearing and clearly has the character and gravitas for the role.

“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.”

The committee also criticised the selection process as a “shambles” prompting “great concern” about the department’s ability to run “effective and impartial” public appointment competitions.

During his career Lord Grade has served as controller of BBC One, chief executive of Channel 4, chairman of the BBC and executive chairman of ITV.

He currently sits as a Conservative peer in the House of Lords after being appointed by David Cameron in 2011.

When confirmed as Ofcom chairman he will move to the cross-benches and give up any non-executive roles that could cause a conflict of interest.

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