Michael Grade has emerged as the favourite to become the next Ofcom chair, with the culture secretary expected to make a final decision this week on who will oversee the UK’s media regulator.
Appointing the veteran media executive and Tory politician as boss of the organisation would end a chaotic and embarrassing appointment process. The search has taken almost two years as a result of a series of botched attempts to hand the role to former Daily Mail editor Paul Dacre.
The deadline to apply for the latest recruitment round – overseen by the veteran civil servant Sue Gray – was repeatedly extended in a bid to attract a wider variety of candidates for the £142,000 three-day-a-week job.
Despite this, sources with knowledge of the recruitment process said the choice has come down to two Conservative peers in the final round.
In addition to Lord Grade, the other candidate interviewed by Nadine Dorries earlier this month was Stephen Gilbert – a former deputy chair of the Tory party and former boss of the House of Lords communications select committee.
Sources with knowledge of the recruitment process expect the culture secretary to give the job to Grade, who has held top executive roles at the BBC, Channel 4 and ITV during a media career that spans seven decades.
His politics are seen as being closer to Dorries’ views than Lord Gilbert. Earlier this month Grade criticised the BBC’s coverage of events such as Partygate as “gleeful and disrespectful”, while he is also a long-term supporter of Channel 4 privatisation.
A Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport spokesperson insisted “no final decision” has been made on the successful candidate, although an announcement is believed to be imminent. The chosen candidate will have to undertake a pre-appointment hearing in front of parliament.
Boris Johnson initially offered the job of overseeing the media regulator to Dacre over a bottle of wine in summer 2020. However, the former Daily Mail editor flunked the formal application process following an interview with an independent panel.
Unhappy with the panel’s decision, the government then decided to scrap the entire process in order to give Dacre a second shot, despite struggling to find people to sit on the second interview panel for the job.
Even when they did find people to sit on the panel, the entire process was upended when Dacre unexpectedly pulled out of the process and blamed the civil service, the Guardian, and people with a “toxic hatred of Brexit” for conspiring against him.
Almost the entire ministerial team in the culture department was sacked in the prime minister’s last reshuffle, with some believing the embarrassing failure to secure the Ofcom job was the main reason Downing Street decided on the clear-out.