A Cabinet minister has failed to deny “behind-the-scenes conversations” to line-up two outspoken right-wing critics of the BBC for crucial broadcasting jobs.
Paul Dacre, the former Daily Mail editor, is tipped to become chairman of broadcasting regulator Ofcom, while Charles Moore, a former Daily Telegraph editor, is favoured for the post of BBC chairman.
The appointments would be hugely controversial, with one Tory backbencher admitting he would welcome them because the two men “are Conservatives”.
Asked if talks had taken place, Oliver Dowden, the culture secretary, said only: “Of course I have conversations with people all the time.”
And he stressed the choices were Boris Johnson’s to make, after vetting for suitability by an independent panel in the case of the Ofcom boss.
“Whoever is deemed appointable, the choice will be put to ministers and ministers will make that decision,” Mr Dowden told The Andrew Marr Show.
Mr Dacre is believed to have been wooed by Mr Johnson over drinks in Downing Street, while Lord Moore was handed a peerage by the prime minister last month.
The peer’s appointment is believed to be close despite his admission that he does not watch TV and his past refusal to pay the licence fee, in a dispute over a presenter.
Mr Dowden denied jobs had been formally offered, saying: “There is a formal process. It is not my role to offer them a job.”
And he insisted: "I want to be sure we have the best person possible to lead Ofcom as chair and the best person possible to lead the BBC as chair.”
Mr Dacre could be expected to pursue the persistent right-wing complaint of BBC bias, also encouraging the corporation to downsize to focus on its core public service role.
David Dimbleby, the former host of Question Time, has called for a proper process to appoint the chairman and accused Downing Street of trying bring the corporation “to heel”.
And Jo Stevens, Labour’s culture spokeswoman, said: “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.”