Ofcom chair Michael Grade says TV has become ‘exploitative, patronising and cruel’

Michael Grade, the chair of broadcasting regulator Ofcom, has said TV has become “exploitative and cruel”.

In a new interview, the peer and former chair of the BBC board said: “The exploitation dial has been switched up more and more for ratings. It makes me mad. I really don’t like it or enjoy it.

“Television has also become patronising in the sense of: ‘This will do for the audience.’ No mind at work behind it. No real craft thrown in. Just bread and circuses.”

Speaking to Boom Radio for its new series Open The Box, Lord Grade laments the state of commissioning and appeared to express concern about reality TV.

While he did not name specific programmes, he did mention that members of the public are being used more frequently to entertain viewers, when traditionally, it was professional entertainers starring in TV shows.

“In the old days, professional ­entertainers used to entertain the public,” The Observer reported Lord Grade as saying. “Now the public are entertaining themselves.”

Lord Grade, 81, was the controller of BBC One in the mid-Eighties, the chief executive of Channel 4 from 1988 to 1997 and the chair of ITV in the late Noughties. Former culture secretary Nadine Dorries appointed him as Ofcom chair on 1 May 2022 for four years.

Ofcom has come under pressure to investigate TV and radio broadcasts featuring politicians, particularly GB News, which often sees Conservative MPs taking a presenting role.

Boom Radio presenter Jo Brand pressed Lord Grade about the high number of complaints the regulator receives relating to GB News, but the peer said he could not reveal figures until it was fully investigated.

Lord Michael Grade was appointed as Ofcom chair in 2022 (PA Wire)
Lord Michael Grade was appointed as Ofcom chair in 2022 (PA Wire)

“However, we have to weigh up freedom of expression and the public’s right to know along with the need for balance and impartiality,” he said. “We also don’t want our broadcasters being owned and run for political reasons.”

Ofcom said last month that five GB News programmes presented by Conservative MPs broke impartiality rules.

Two episodes of Jacob Rees-Mogg’s State Of The Nation, two of Friday Morning With Esther And Phil, and one of Saturday Morning With Esther And Phil, broadcast during May and June 2023, broke due impartiality rules, the regulator said.

It came six months after the regulator found an episode of GB News’s The Live Desk, aired in July 2023, broke the same rules.

Broadcasting rules state that news, in whatever form, must be presented with due impartiality and that a politician cannot be a newsreader, news interviewer or news reporter unless, exceptionally, there is editorial justification.

Lord Grade also said that programmes have become increasingly expensive to make.

“The big question mark is whether the money is going to be around to keep investing in the programmes which are only made for the British audience and probably don’t have international appeal,” he said. “They remain an important part of what we expect on television these days.”

He has previously called the BBC licence fee, which is now £169.50 a year, a “regressive tax” that is “too high”, meaning that he would pay no more than a “single mum with three kids in a rented room”.

Open The Box can be heard on Boom Radio on Sunday 21 April