Lord Grade sets out to hire Ofcom to take on Silicon Valley Business

Ofcom is hiring 150 new technology and cybersecurity staff at a new hub in Manchester, part of a significant expansion for the regulator which employs around 1,000 people to regulate television, the postal system and telecommunications and mobile phone services.

Such a workforce will be needed to enforce powers that could allow it to impose multi-billion pound fines of up to 10% of the social media company’s annual turnover – or put its executives in jail for two years – if they fail to banish illegal content in pace.

Yet these powers are only effective if they can be applied. With social media companies holding the deepest knowledge of their algorithms and the vast reserves of cash to fund lengthy legal battles, Ofcom faces a huge challenge.

Julian Knight, chairman of the culture committee, asked if Grade was “prepped for the fight” as Meta was seen as a “lawyer” ahead of Ofcom’s new role.

“We have to be,” he replied. “Recruitment [at Ofcom] is going extremely well. Including a flyer or two from top tech companies.

“A major priority is to make sure that we are going to measure up to these companies. One of the provisions of the bill is the power to demand information. Nobody has that power. We have to recruit people able to understand this information.

Yet he is also aware of Ofcom’s limitations: “We may not be able to poach people with financial incentives that bring in millions of dollars in Silicon Valley.

“But, for an organization like ours, we will have to identify newcomers with the right experience that we can train and have good basic knowledge. Hopefully we will be a hotbed for huge talents in this field.”

Given his propensity for expressing outspoken opinions, Grade’s challenge may come from finding a way to bolster the regulator’s strength without straying from his reputation for making sober, unbiased decisions based on evidence.

While executive chairman of ITV in 2008, he called the video-sharing site YouTube a “parasite” that feeds on content produced by broadcasters.

He also openly criticized Ofcom workers, calling them ‘woke warriors’ after they launched an investigation into Talking Pictures TV’s decision to air 70s comedy Rogue’s Rock starring a white actor wearing black make-up .

Although he expressed differing views on the woke debate, the BBC licensing fee and his support for the privatization of Channel 4, Grade said he would have no trouble putting those views behind him.

“Ofcom’s enviable reputation as a regulator is based on its processes, its judgments – its decisions are based on evidence and research,” he said. “And so you leave your opinions at the door when you come to Ofcom. You have to leave your opinions at the door.”

Perhaps the most powerful weapon Grade can draw on is his previous skirmishes with the Regulator. Although he may not have deep knowledge of the inner workings of social media platforms, his many battles with Ofcom when he was in charge of the BBC, ITV and Channel 4 gave him important strategic knowledge of what it’s like to be on the other side.

For Grade, its success will be judged by how seriously tech companies take Ofcom three years from now.

“[The tech companies] begin to understand that paying lip service is no longer acceptable,” he said. “But it won’t happen overnight. It’s a long time to fix that.”

Anti-Revival campaigners are part of a ‘thoughtful and lively debate’, says Lord Grade

Anti-Revival campaigners are a big part of the ‘thoughtful and lively debate’ in Britain, Lord Grade said, as he repeated his fierce criticism of the BBC and the liberal left following his nomination as President of the UK. ‘Ofcom.

The Tory peer said describing the BBC’s licensing fees as regressive was not an opinion but a ‘statement of fact’ and that he admired actor-turned-woke critic Laurence Fox for ‘his courage to speak out “.

However, the former BBC chairman said he did not like the ‘shrill tone’ of the woke debate in Britain as it was scrutinized by MPs on the culture committee before taking on the role of £142,500 per year.

Refuting questions about his ability to remain impartial at Ofcom despite his outspoken views and seasoned broadcasting career, he added: “Ofcom’s enviable reputation as a regulator is based on their processes, their decisions – their decisions are based on evidence and research.

“And so you leave your opinions at the door when you come to Ofcom. You have to leave your opinions at the door.”

His appointment comes after a process to find a suitable candidate to chair the watchdog, which oversees broadcasting and telecommunications in the UK, has faced a series of delays since its launch two years ago.

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This notice was published: 2022-03-31 18:07:32

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