The newly appointed Ofcom chair Michael Grade called the BBC licence fee “regressive” this morning, affirming the ongoing questions marks surrounding the future for the Beeb.
Suggesting that this description was simply a “statement of fact”, he told the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) Committee: “Let me just say straight away that my criticism of the licence fee was about the fact that, at the time of the last settlement, their news bulletins were full, quite rightly, of stories about increased use of food banks, hardship across the country, people having to choose whether to heat or to eat – to use the soundbite.
“And there they were, another part of the BBC, asking for more money at the licence fee. As a former chairman of the BBC and a friend of the BBC, a critical friend sometimes, I thought that was wrong and I wanted to say so.”
He added: “I described the licence fee as regressive. I didn’t think that was an opinion, I thought that was a statement of fact, actually.”
The 79-year-old Conservative peer was subject to “pre-appointment scrutiny” following the department’s announcement last week that he had been chosen as the preferred candidate for the media regulator top spot.
Grade’s previous positions include Chairman of the BBC, Chairman of Pinewood Studios, as well as the chief executive of Channel 4.
Lord Grade previously spoke in favour of the privatisation of Channel 4 , and he fought for it twice whilst its chief, under both Margaret Thatcher and John Major.
At the start of this year the government announced it would be freezing the £159 BBC licence fee for two years, with its existence guaranteed until at least 31 December 2027 under the broadcaster’s royal charter.
Not only did the BBC call this decision “disappointing”, but it also warned that the freeze will “necessitate tougher choices” moving forward.
The fee currently makes up almost three-quarters of the broadcaster’s funding, including all BBC services, like iPlayer, TV, websites and radio.
On naming him as the preferred candidate last week, Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries said: “Lord Grade’s experience at the highest level of a number of broadcasters and his expert knowledge of the British media landscape makes him an ideal candidate for this role.”
As part of this role as Ofcom chair, he will also be overseeing the regulation of the internet as part of the government’s new catchall Online Safety Bill.
This comes alongside the fact that Grade revealed this morning that he doesn’t personally use social media.
He told the committee: “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. We can’t be experts in every single aspect of the turf that Ofcom has to patrol.”
The process was shrouded with controversy after former Daily Mail editor Paul Dacre was reportedly the Prime Minister’s top pick during initial interviews for the role. He later withdrew from the process and it was subsequently re-run.