Sunday Times caption: Charles Moore has been asked to take the post of BBC chairman; Paul Dacre is wanted for the top job at Ofcom (ALAMY/DAN KITWOOD/GETTY IMAGES)
Good news. While it would make a welcome change to see conservatives in these positions, Paul Dacre has a (very) modest record of challenging feminism and feminists whilst editor of The Daily Mail, while Charles Moore has no track record that I’m aware of. Moore is a stereotypical gynocentric traditional conservative. A piece in today’s Sunday Times:
Boris Johnson is ushering in a revolution at the top of British broadcasting by offering two of the top jobs in television to outspoken critics of the BBC.
Paul Dacre, the former editor of the Daily Mail, is the prime minister’s choice to become chairman of Ofcom, the broadcasting regulator, replacing Lord Burns, who is due to leave before the end of the year.
Lord Moore, the former editor of the Daily Telegraph and biographer of Margaret Thatcher, who has condemned the criminalisation of those who refuse to pay the licence fee, has been asked by the prime minister to take up the post of BBC chairman.
The potential appointments of two right-wing Brexiteers will send shockwaves through the broadcasting establishment.
Dacre was wooed by Johnson over drinks in Downing Street in February, before the Covid pandemic struck, and is now in talks with No 10 about the Ofcom role.
Dacre will want to crack down on alleged BBC bias and encourage the corporation to downsize to focus on its core public service responsibilities. However, he is on record as wanting to preserve the corporation, and Whitehall sources say he “passionately believes it needs saving from itself”.
During his editorship at the Daily Mail, Dacre was also highly critical of digital platforms such as Google and Facebook that earn huge sums by recycling stories from other media outlets without payment and peddle “fake news”.
Whitehall sources said Dacre was prepared to take on the role provided he is given assurances about his freedom to act. No 10 sources confirmed he is the prime minister’s preferred candidate.
The double appointment is an audacious move to install figures more sympathetic to the government in positions that have traditionally been perceived as the natural home for more liberal-minded executives. “This is part of a process of the prime minister putting allies in key positions,” said one source close to Johnson.
The prime minister asked Moore to take on the BBC chairmanship around a month ago and in recent days, senior figures say, it is virtually a “done deal”. Moore — handed a peerage by Johnson in August — is still in negotiations over the exact details of his contract.
However, the failure to advertise the BBC role has unleashed a government row since the appointment of its chairman is supposed to be an open process. The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport was last night scrabbling to finalise plans to publish the job description for the BBC chairman’s role and invite applications this week. One official in the department even said they were not aware of Johnson’s offer to Moore. A similar public applications process for the Ofcom chairmanship is expected to open next month.
No 10 sources were keen to downplay the idea that Johnson wants to go to war with the BBC, praising the new director general Tim Davie, in a sign that No 10 wants to do business with him.
Davie has already warned BBC journalists to rein in personal political statements on social media platforms like Twitter and their lucrative outside earnings.
However, another senior Conservative familiar with the discussions said: “Within the BBC there will be an awful lot of people who will find his [Moore’s] appointment alarming. I think it can only make Davie’s life more difficult.”
Moore’s appointment clears the way for the decriminalisation of those who refuse to pay the BBC licence fee, which is expected to hit revenue by £200m annually. Ministers are due to respond to a public consultation on the issue in the next few months.
As editor of the Mail, Dacre was a fervent critic of BBC bias and waste, backing the publication of the salaries of the corporation’s top talent. He remains on the board of the Mail’s parent company, Associated Newspapers, a position he is likely to come under pressure to relinquish.
Dacre is a bogeyman figure for many on the left, but his allies often stress that he has a history of defending freedom of expression and has been hostile to Tory governments as well as Labour. At Gordon Brown’s request, he also undertook a review of the 30-year rule on the release of state secrets, which led to most government papers becoming available after 20 years rather than 30 years.
Dacre was approached for the Ofcom chairman’s job after Dame Melanie Dawes, a former Whitehall mandarin, was installed as chief executive in February.
The incumbent chairman, Lord Burns, had fought to ensure that job went to a civil servant rather than someone political. But having secured Dawes’s appointment he agreed to go in 2020, rather than work until the end of his four-year term in 2022.
A government spokesman said: “We will launch the application process for the new chair of the BBC shortly. It is an open recruitment process and all public appointments are subject to a robust and fair selection criteria.”
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