A Commons committee has called for more “transparency” in the appointment of the next BBC and Ofcom chairs after the government faced accusations of “interfering” in the process.
Former Daily Mail editor Paul Dacre, a vocal BBC critic, is said to be Boris Johnson’s preferred candidate for the Ofcom chairman role, while ex-Daily Telegraph editor Charles Moore is reported to have been asked to take up the post of BBC chairman.
The Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee said the promotion of potential names by senior government figures “would cast doubt on the eventual appointments and the fairness of the process, regardless of candidates’ merits.”
Committee chair Julian Knight said: “Those appointed to head up the BBC and the broadcasting regulator Ofcom will play a critical role in a fast-changing media landscape.
“Transparency must be at the heart of the process and this committee is determined to ensure that is what we will get.
“We cannot have a fair process undermined by politicking.
“Cabinet ministers must not indulge in public speculation or private briefing about potential appointments to either of these posts if the integrity of the appointments process is to be maintained.”
The committee called on the government to give it statutory right of veto over senior appointments to broadcasting watchdog Ofcom.
“To increase scrutiny, we’re asking for statutory veto over the appointment and dismissal of the next chair of Ofcom, a power that has been called for repeatedly and has precedent elsewhere,” Knight, a Tory MP, said.
The statement comes after Labour accused the government of “interfering in an open process and appointment”.
Shadow culture secretary Jo Stevens told Sky News’s Sophy Ridge On Sunday: “I think the whole idea of announcing appointments before a process has actually taken place is a bit strange, and I think the public will be wondering where the government’s priorities are on this.
“Why are the government interfering in that sort of thing, when they should be concentrating on getting a grip on test and trace, keeping coronavirus rates under control and getting the economy back on track?”
Culture secretary Oliver Dowden has said the process for appointing new chairs of the BBC and Ofcom would be launched shortly, with interviews conducted by an independent panel.
During his editorship of the Daily Mail, Dacre was highly critical of the BBC, while Lord Moore has previously criticised the criminalisation of people who refuse to pay the licence fee.
Ofcom chairman Lord Burns is due to leave before the end of the year, while BBC chairman Sir David Clementi will stand down in February.
NUJ national broadcasting organiser Paul Siegert said: “It shouldn’t even be a matter of debate whether the chairs of the BBC board and Ofcom are chosen through a fair and transparent process.
“These are two of the most important roles in the media industry and we can’t have people just given the roles because they happen to be friends with the prime minister.
“There are plenty of more suitable candidates who would do much better jobs than the current names being mentioned. Any recruitment process needs to make sure it attracts and appoints the very best candidates into the two roles.”