Will new Ofcom chair Michael Grade be a friend or foe to free news and information?

The choice of Lord (Michael) Grade as the new chairman of UK media regulator Ofcom is an interesting one, maybe not so potentially explosive as the Government’s first choice, former Daily Mail editor Paul Dacre, but likely to be lively all the same.

Grade, a member of the famous showbiz dynasty who famously turned up for his first day at the Daily Mirror in uncle’s Roller, has been both boss of the BBC and Channel 4 so might be expected to fight their corner against a hostile government. But he’s a Tory peer and has recently criticised both entities, saying the BBC’s too big and expensive (the licence fee is currently £159) and C4 should be privatised.

The Beeb is undeniably big and struggling to do all the things it does on reduced income, even though it still gets through about £3bn a year. TV channel BBC4 and Radio 6 Music are perennially in the firing line. Current director general Tim Davie, a former PepsiCo exec, wanted to ditch 6 Music a few years back.

C4 does indeed seem to have lost its way somewhat under CEO Alex Mahon and programme boss Ian Katz, a far cry from the buccaneering entity that Grade headed. Dacre’s Daily Mail dubbed him the UK’s “pornographer in chief” to his delight. It needs a redefined role although privatisation is hardly likely to provide it.

6 Music is struggling to replace a now elderly generation of DJs with more yoof-orientated faces. The BBC’s approach to all things new is often cumbersome: You’re now invited to sign in with a BBC account when you visit its (open access) website. Why? Because Facebook et al do it?

But one thing the war in Ukraine has surely taught us is that free access (obviously, there’s the licence fee) to impartial news and information is more vital than ever. There really isn’t much of it around in the UK. Grade should bear that in mind.

His other big duty is internet regulation and supervision. Good luck with than one.

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About Stephen Foster

Stephen is a former editor of Marketing Week and London Evening Standard advertising columnist. He wrote City Republic for Brand Republic and is a partner in communications consultancy The Editorial Partnership.

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