Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden declined to confirm a report that two close allies of Boris Johnson could be parachuted to lead the BBC and Ofcom, but argued that the BBC must expand its reach to – beyond the “narrow metropolitan areas” of the UK.
Dowden said it was too early to comment on the possibility that former Telegraph editor Charles Moore will be appointed chairman of the BBC and former Daily Mail editor Paul Dacre will become head of the ‘Ofcom, the media regulator.
The Sunday Times reported that the appointments of Moore and Dacre, who are both right-wing Brexiters with strong skepticism of the BBC, were sought by Johnson and are due to be announced shortly.
The two had been personally approached by Johnson, according to the report, and were in talks to take the jobs.
“I think everyone is getting a head start with this,” Dowden told Sky’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday, when asked about the idea.
“We will be launching the nomination process for the President of the BBC and the President of Ofcom shortly, and at this point candidates will be invited to apply.
When asked if Dacre or Moore would be his choices, Dowden said, “I’m not going to get caught up in conversations about each of the candidates. There are strengths to both Charles Moore and Sir Paul Dacre.
But he has strongly indicated that he would like a Moore type personality to chair the BBC: “What we are looking for is a strong and tall person who can hold the BBC to account. There are three things I talked about with the BBC. The first is to guarantee genuine impartiality. Second, to ensure that the BBC is up to the challenges of the future, as we move from analog to digital to platform technology – huge changes for the BBC.
“And then, third, to ensure that the BBC represents all parts of our country, not just the narrow metropolitan areas – London, Bristol, Birmingham, etc.
Moore and Dacre would be hugely controversial choices, both because of their cutting-edge opinions and because of accusations of cronyism and political interference.
Moore was Johnson’s boss for a time as editor of The Telegraph and was named a Conservative Peer by the Prime Minister in July. Thatcher’s authorized biographer Moore argued that people are right to oppose the immigration of Muslims, and that marriage equality could theoretically lead people to marry dogs.
Dacre, who spent more than 25 years as editor of the Mail, is known both for his conservative tone with the newspaper and for repeatedly condemning the BBC.
Labor shadow culture secretary Jo Stevens said she had no comment on Moore or Dacre. She told the Ridge show, “When an appointment is made and announced, we will take a stand and take a stand and comment then.”
She added: “But the point is that the BBC and Ofcom are an integral part of our national interest. Ofcom regulates the BBC, they should be free from political interference, they should be impartial and the stuff lying around about these appointments is quite worrying.
Stevens also condemned Downing Street for leaking information about their favorite candidates to friendly newspapers: “Why are they worried and interfering in an open process and nomination for the BBC and the head of Ofcom , two very high and independent public service positions that carry significant salaries? ?
“Why is the government interfering in this stuff, when it should be focused on getting the test and tracing under control, keeping coronavirus rates under control and getting the economy back on track?”
Stevens condemned the idea of the nominations being used as a means to effectively dissolve the BBC: “It’s something we should cherish. I’m not saying it’s perfect, no organization is perfect. But if it does work, and we don’t have a BBC as we know it, as an independent and impartial broadcaster, I think we will really regret it.
Other Labor MPs have been more outspoken. Ben Bradshaw, former secretary of culture, tweeted: “Charles Moore to lead the BBC and Paul Dacre Ofcom?” If this is true, the ultimate bastardization of our democratic culture. Jobs for Johnson’s Conservative companions. “
A government spokesperson said: “We will be launching the application process for the new BBC president shortly. This is an open recruitment process and all public appointments are subject to strong and fair selection criteria. “