Facebook's Nick Clegg had two meetings with Ofcom boss

Facebook’s Nick Clegg had two meetings with Ofcom boss – but the watchdog won’t reveal what they talked about

  • Ex-Deputy PM met Dame Melanie Dawes shortly before he reportedly tried to interfere with the appointment of a new chairman of the watchdog
  • MoS has established Sir Nick met Dame Melanie on two occasions – Apr 16, 2020, and Feb 3 this year – but Ofcom has refused to reveal what was discussed
  • In response to a Freedom of Information request lodged by this newspaper, the regulator said it could not release any details without Facebook’s permission, or unless the law required it – and neither condition had been met

Media regulator Ofcom faced questions about its transparency last night after it refused to disclose information about meetings between its chief executive and Facebook lobbyist Nick Clegg.

The former Deputy Prime Minister met Dame Melanie Dawes shortly before he reportedly tried to interfere with the appointment of a new chairman of the watchdog.

The Mail on Sunday has established that Sir Nick met Dame Melanie on two occasions – April 16, 2020, and February 3 this year – but Ofcom has refused to reveal what was discussed.

In response to a Freedom of Information request lodged by this newspaper, the regulator said it could not release any details without Facebook’s permission, or unless the law required it – and neither condition had been met.

Media regulator Ofcom faced questions about its transparency last night after it refused to disclose information about meetings between its chief executive and Facebook lobbyist Nick Clegg

The refusal came after governments from five countries, as well as the European Union, fully co-operated with our requests, releasing a slew of documents and minutes about exchanges involving Sir Nick.

They included details of an email conversation between the former Lib Dem leader and Margrethe Vestager, a Danish politician who was the European Commissioner for competition when Clegg was appointed Facebook’s head of global affairs in 2018.

The day after his new role was announced, Sir Nick emailed her: ‘I know you have reservations about social media, and perhaps FB [Facebook] in particular, but I hope you’d agree it’s good to have a European and a liberal in the heart of Silicon Valley!’

The former Deputy Prime Minister met Dame Melanie Dawes (above) shortly before he reportedly tried to interfere with the appointment of a new chairman of the watchdog. The Mail on Sunday has established that Sir Nick met Dame Melanie on two occasions – April 16, 2020, and February 3 this year – but Ofcom has refused to reveal what was discussed

Sir Nick later joined forces with Google to lobby against the proposed appointment of former Daily Mail editor Paul Dacre as head of the watchdog, according to the Daily Telegraph. 

Mr Dacre emerged as Boris Johnson’s favourite to chair the watchdog’s board last summer because of his willingness to ‘challenge the status quo’.

Facebook denied interfering with the appointment process, which is now being re-run after Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said he had become aware of concerns ‘about lobbying and undeclared interests from candidates’.

The interview panel containing outside executives and a civil servant could now be replaced.

The tech giants were reported to favour the selection of Lord Vaizey, who enjoyed friendly relations with the sector when he was Culture Secretary under David Cameron. The other candidates are Ofcom’s deputy chairman Maggie Carver and Sir Tom Winsor, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Constabulary.

The refusal came after governments from five countries, as well as the EU, fully co-operated with our requests, releasing a slew of documents and minutes about exchanges involving Sir Nick. They included details of an email conversation between the former Lib Dem leader and Margrethe Vestager (above), a Danish politician who was the European Commissioner for competition when Clegg was appointed Facebook’s head of global affairs in 2018

Ofcom currently regulates telecoms, broadcasting and the postal services, but its remit is being broadened to include the internet too.

Ministers will give Ofcom powers to regulate social media companies as part of the Online Safety Bill, meaning the successful candidate would oversee the implementation of rules holding the web giants to account for child sexual abuse images, terrorist material and harmful content about suicide on their services.

Last week, Julian Knight, the chairman of the Commons Culture Committee, criticised the ‘unnecessary delay’ to the process, saying: ‘We are concerned about the lack of clarity on why the process… needs to be re-run.

‘As a result of this unnecessary delay, the communications regulator finds itself without a chair at what could not be a more critical time as the Government prepares to legislate against online harms.’

A Facebook spokesman told the Daily Telegraph: ‘Facebook has long called for new rules to set high standards across the internet. We already have strict policies against harmful content on our platforms, but regulations are needed so that private companies aren’t making so many important decisions alone.’

An Ofcom spokesman said: ‘It’s a vital part of the chief executive’s role to meet senior representatives from every industry we regulate.

‘These conversations must be open, frank and of commercial nature and therefore confidential.

‘We will continue to meet with senior leaders as we carry out our oversight of these important sectors.’

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