Dame Patricia Hodgson DBE
2A Southwark Bridge Road
2nd February 2015
Dear Dame Patricia
I am writing to you about the Deputy Chair of the Ofcom Board, Baroness Noakes.
We regard the work and standing of Ofcom as of the greatest importance. Ofcom’s responsibilities include ensuring broadcasters are properly regulated, the market fair, consumers protected and the requirements on public service broadcasters complied with. Ofcom’s role is fundamental to the plurality and integrity of our broadcasters and therefore Ofcom is fundamental to our democracy.
It is universally agreed that to do that, Ofcom must be, and seen to be, scrupulously non-political and non-partisan and be free from financial conflicts of interest. And it has, hitherto, in my view, carried out those important functions with integrity and in an evidently non-partisan way. Your strong commitment to high standards and impartiality is unquestioned.
So it is with great concern that I discovered that your Deputy Chair, Baroness Noakes, held telecoms shares, was taking the Conservative Whip in the House of Lords and serving as a Conservative nominee on a Bill Committee in the House of Lords and was issuing highly partisan tweets.
It is essential that Ofcom is respected by all. But I don’t see how this respect can be sustained if the Deputy Chair is so lacking in judgement that she holds shares which give rise to a conflict of interest, does not resign the Conservative whip and engages in blatantly pro-Tory, anti-Labour tweeting.
I am also concerned that it has fallen to me to raise this. Leaving aside the point that Baroness Noakes clearly does not understand the nature of the role – which begs the question of why she was appointed in the first place – why was the problem not identified and acted upon by Ofcom itself? Ofcom should be responsible for ensuring compliance with its own guidance – this should not be the responsibility of the Shadow Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport.
My own view is that Baroness Noakes continuing to be Deputy Chair of the Ofcom Board will be a continuing vulnerability for Ofcom. She cannot be expected to lead standards and integrity within the regulator. Those outside the regulator cannot be expected to accept that she is non-partisan. When the next controversy arises we will need, as ever, Ofcom to deal with it. Yet with Baroness Noakes in post, Ofcom would become part of the problem.
I assure you that I am not trying to take party political advantage on this because she is a Conservative. The integrity of Ofcom matters to all parties. Despite his former role as a member of Thatcher’s cabinet and her election campaign manager I did not challenge Chris Patten’s non-partisanship as Chair of the BBC because he so actively embraced the non-partisan nature of the appointment. Indeed I would be every bit as dismayed if a Labour appointee acted like this (though I would hope to never appoint someone with such poor judgement).
Sajid Javid, the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport has declined to comment or take any action on this. I look forward to hearing your response.
Rt Hon Harriet Harman QC MP
Shadow Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport