Appointing Charles Moore and Paul Dacre, two socially conservative critics of the UK’s broadcast media, to oversee British broadcasting would allow the government to reshape the British media in its own image. What is still unclear is whether ministers have the willingness to push the appointments through – and how much Moore and Dacre would be able to change.
Giving the job of BBC chairman to Moore, an ardent Brexiter and the authorised biographer of Margaret Thatcher, would likely be the death knell of the BBC’s existing funding model. The former Spectator and Daily Telegraph editor, who employed Boris Johnson as a columnist and was recently given a peerage by him, was prosecuted in 2010 for refusing to pay the licence fee after the BBC refused to sack Jonathan Ross when he and Russell Brand left obscene messages on the actor Andrew Sachs’s answerphone in October 2008).
Meanwhile, Dacre’s name had been circulating as a potential chairman of Ofcom in recent weeks, along with the former Daily Telegraph executive Guy Black, but many in broadcasting had dismissed the speculation as a joke. Appointing the 71-year-old former Daily Mail editor to run the regulator’s board will see him overseeing a sprawling communications regulator, managing everything from complaints about Black Lives Matter tributes on Britain’s Got Talent, to reviewing the scope of the BBC, and dealing with mobile phone network infrastructure.
What set the media world alight was the suggestion by the Sunday Times that both appointments now have the backing of the prime minister. While both the BBC and Ofcom chairmans are non-executive positions, they still carry substantial power to influence both organisations and force out the director general or chief executive.
The official line is that the jobs, which have to be formally advertised and applications overseen by the independent commissioner for public appointments, are far from done deals. Yet in reality positioning by potential candidates for the jobs has been under way for some time. And while a formal process has to be followed, there is little to stop the government forcing through a preferred candidate if ministers wished to do so.
On Moore’s part, he is a one of the most prominent critics of the BBC’s culture and funding model. In 2013 he cheered the closure of the Greek public broadcaster, saying state broadcasters (including the BBC) allow the spread of fascism and communism and are ultimately “attempts to impose certain political and cultural norms upon the population”. He has also called the licence fee a “cultural poll tax”. What might raise further attention are the 63-year-old’s writings on diversity in the UK, including his argument that there should be restrictions on the number of Muslims allowed to immigrate to the UK and his longstanding scepticism on the climate crisis.
While guest editing the Today programme last year, he set out his position: “The BBC has decided to be a secular church and it preaches and tells us what we ought to think about things. So it tells us we shouldn’t support Brexit and we should accept climate change alarmism and we have to all kowtow to the doctrines of diversity.”
Dacre, who has held an honorific role as editor-in-chief of the Daily Mail since being moved out of the editor’s chair two years ago, would be an unlikely choice to run Ofcom. The regulator is increasingly spending its time dealing with the threat to British broadcasting posed by US tech companies and is preparing for its new role as online harms regulator. Dacre’s background is print and newspapers.
But his longstanding criticism of what he describes as the BBC’s “cultural Marxism” and the broadcaster’s failure to represent the views of millions of conservative voters outside London chime with the government’s messages. Two years ago, in a valedictory speech, Dacre predicted the BBC would “diminish in power as the streaming giants undermine the licence fee” and said a “right-of-centre TV network will one day take root in this country” – predictions that are already coming to pass.
And while the government may be floating Dacre’s name as Ofcom chair to skewer mainstream media outlets, it is likely that Facebook and Google will also be concerned. Dacre has made clear he is no fan of giant tech companies and the “ultimate solution – as with the oil barons in the last century – is to break them up”.