Ofcom's Lord Grade praises Laurence Fox and criticises BBC licence fee

New Ofcom chairman Lord Grade praises the ‘courage’ of Laurence Fox and criticises the ‘regressive’ BBC licence fee in his first grilling by MPs

  • Tory grandee and media mogul said he was entitled to attack the ‘regressive’ fee 
  • 79-year-old has held senior positions at all three of the UK’s major media outlets
  • He told MPs he ‘admired’ Laurence Fox, the actor turned political campaigner

New Ofcom chairman Lord Grade today defended past criticism of the BBC licence fee and spoke of his admiration for political campaigner Laurence Fox as he faced a grilling by MPs.

The Tory grandee and media mogul said he was entitled to attack the ‘regressive’ fee as he was questioned on issues including the selection process for his role, online safety and the regulation of tech giants.

The 79-year-old Conservative peer, who has held senior positions at all three of the UK’s major media outlets, appeared before the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) Committee this morning for pre-appointment scrutiny, after being named the Government’s preferred candidate for the post.  

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

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’.

Defending his comments, he told the committee: ‘I described the licence fee as regressive. I didn’t think that was an opinion, I thought that was a statement of fact, actually.’

While discussing cancel culture and the debate over so-called woke TV and radio programming, Lord Grade said he ‘admired’ Laurence Fox, the actor turned political campaigner.

He said: ‘I admire his courage. I have known his family. His grandfather and my father were partners in business going back a long way.

‘I admire his courage in speaking out and contributing to the debate. I don’t necessarily agree with what he says, but I admire him speaking out.’

The Tory grandee and media mogul said he was entitled to attack the ‘regressive’ fee as he was questioned on issues including the selection process for his role, online safety and the regulation of tech giants.

While discussing cancel culture and the debate over so-called woke TV and radio programming, Lord Grade said he ‘admired’ Laurence Fox (pictured)

Referring to Channel 4 and whether it should be privatised, he added: ‘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.’

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.

If 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.

He was named for the position after a lengthy recruitment process which was branded as ‘chaotic and frankly embarrassing’ by Labour.

Facing MPs he admitted he does not use Facebook, Instagram or TikTok, although he has WhatsApp to communicate with his family.

John Nicolson, from the SNP, challenged him over an apparent ‘lack of engagements with such an important part of contemporary life’ and suggested this would ‘prove problematic’ because his new role required such an understanding.

Lord Grade responded: ‘I wouldn’t say I have no experience at all. I have three kids. I have a 23-year-old student son who is never off his screen.’

He then added to the committee: ‘I do understand the dynamics.’

‘The important thing as chairman of Ofcom, we can’t be experts of every aspect of the turf that Ofcom has to patrol.

‘What we have to do is ensure that we have access to the best brains that we can hire and the best advisers and the best expertise that we can to make sure we have a match for what’s going on in those sectors.’

Lord Grade said that at the end of his three years in the role he hoped ‘people can see that we are giving good effect to what Parliament has laid down for us to do and the tech companies are taking us very seriously and beginning to understand – it won’t happen overnight – that lip service to responsibility is no longer acceptable’.

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