Anti-woke campaigners are an important part of “thoughtful and lively debate” in Britain, Lord Grade said, as he repeated his fierce criticism of the BBC and the liberal left following his appointment as Ofcom chairman.
The Conservative peer said describing the BBC license fee as regressive was not an opinion but a “statement of fact” and that he admired the actor turned woke critic Laurence Fox for “his courage in speaking out”.
However, the former BBC chairman said he did not like the “strident tone” of the woke debate in Britain, as he was scrutinized by MPs on the Culture committee ahead of taking up the £142,500-a-year role.
Rebutting questions about his ability to remain impartial at Ofcom despite his forthright views and seasoned broadcasting career, he added: “Ofcom’s enviable reputation as a regulator is based on their processes, their adjudications – their decisions are based on evidence and research.
“And therefore you leave your opinions at the door when you arrive at Ofcom. You have to leave your opinions at the door.”
His appointment comes after a process to find a suitable candidate to chair the watchdog, which oversees broadcasting and telecommunications in the UK, has faced a series of delays since it began two years ago.
Boris Johnson was understood to have Paul Dacre, the former Daily Mail editor, to get the job. However, he did not make it past a Whitehall recruitment panel.
Asked for his criticism of the BBC license fee, Lord Grade told MPs: “Let me just say straight away that my criticism of the license 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 license 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 SW.”
Lord Grade, 79, will lead the media and telecoms regulator alongside chief executive, Dame Melanie Dawes, as it adds oversight of the tech giants to its remit through new online safety laws.
Asked whether he had ever used social media apps such as Twitter, TikTok, Facebook or Instagram, Lord Grade admitted had not and had only come into contact with them because his children used them. He would focus on hiring the best people to ensure Ofcom met its online safety remit, he added.
The peer also defended his claims that Channel 4 should be sold by the Government as part of a review of its state-ownership despite previously defending against privatization during his time leading the broadcaster.
“As far as Channel 4 is concerned, that is my opinion. I fought privatization 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.”