Friday 10 May 2024

GB News - Slapped on the Wrist


If, like me, you never watch GB News, you could be forgiven for paying no attention to the reports last month that GB News had been criticised by Ofcom for employing three Conservative MPs to act as newsreaders. To date, GB News has been found to have broken Ofcom rules no less than 11 times, with another eight investigations to be resolved. What has not been widely commented upon is the fact that GB News has not paid any significant or substantial penalty for its breaches. It is a mistake to ignore this, as GB News are unlikely to be deterred by mere written criticism.

To offset this, I refer the readers of this blog to the current issue of "Searchlight" magazine, in which can be found an excellent critique of the Ofcom verdict by Dorothy Byrne, who was head of News and Current Affairs at Channel 4 for 17 years. Her article, to which I shall be referring, is online, is excellent and can be read in full by clicking HERE.  

Ms Byrne points out that, had  she presided over 11 breaches of Ofcom rules, she would have been sacked. Not only this, but 17 years ago, Channel 4 was fined £1.5 million for breaking the rules of a live TV phone-in. GB News, please note, has incurred no financial penalty.

Until I read this article, I had no idea how powerful Ofcom was. Byrne has enlightened me:

"The powers of the regulator are mighty. Ofcom revoked the licence to broadcast of the Iranian Government news channel Press TV in 2012 for flagrant breaches. Two years ago, it revoked Russia Today’s right to broadcast. Yet the regulator has taken no action whatsoever against GB News for 11 breaches other than a ticking off".

I do applaud Ofcom for ridding us of Press TV and RT. They are both deranged propaganda outlets for dictatorial regimes, but what is GB News but a propaganda outlet for the Farage wing of the Tory Party and assorted conspiracy "theorists"? Why is it getting off so lightly? The bias of its "news presenters" is astoundingly blatant. Byrne deserves to be quoted at length here:

"...the channel allowed former House of Commons Leader Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg, a former Secretary of State Esther McVey and backbencher Philip Davies – all Conservative MPs – to present news. Rees-Mogg talked about a verdict in one of Donald Trump’s court cases, McVey and Davies presented news about a number of matters including train strikes, the UK economy, an anti-Ulez protest rally and the doctors’ strike. These are all clearly matters of significant public policy and all controversial matters".

These are flagrant breaches of the impartiality rule of broadcasting. As the Ofcom ruling says: 

"Politicians have an inherently partial role in society and news content presented by them is likely to be viewed by audiences in light of that perceived bias. In our view, the use of politicians to present the news risks undermining the integrity and credibility of regulated broadcast news".

The LibDems would certainly agree with that. Back in January, they asked Ofcom to investigate alleged bias in GB News' coverage of the Post Office scandal, including attacks on Sir Ed Davey. They claimed that Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg and Nigel Farage (hello again), both GB News "presenters", targeted opposition politicians, but not Tory ministers for their role in the scandal. The BBC says here: 

"Daisy Cooper, the Lib Dem deputy leader, wrote to Ofcom claiming Mr Farage launched "a fictitious monologue" about Sir Ed which contained "a number of factual inaccuracies" in his show on Tuesday.
"The Liberal Democrats were offered no right of reply. This therefore breaches both the accuracy and impartiality elements of the Ofcom code," Ms Cooper said".

Nor should we forget the Laurence Fox debacle, which was an utter disgrace in terms of broadcasting.
Dorothy Byrne asks (and surely speaks for all of us): Is Ofcom cowed by the Conservative government? A very apt question, to which we can add: how far does the Conservative government favour GB News? After all, in another breach of Ofcom impartiality rules, the husband and wife team of Tory MPs and GB news presenters, Philip Davies and Esther McVey, interviewed Jeremy Hunt about the Budget. As Dorothy Byrne comments here: 

"Common sense would tell you that two Tories interviewing a Tory was not likely to result in a duly impartial interview".

Indeed not, but to further attempt to answer my own question, it was interesting to learn that Rishi Sunak has appointed McVey to a ministerial post and has awarded Davies a knighthood since the rules were breached.

I conclude in the first part by quoting Dorothy Byrne again, as indeed I should. She rightly says:

"Television regulation is one of the cornerstones of our democracy. If this government wants to protect us against extremists who threaten democracy, it should be asking the regulator why it is being so weak about GB News breaking the rules".

For my part, I would like to quote Liz Truss's words to the Tory conference last year:

“In my view, we need more economic journalism and we need more GB News,” Ms Truss said. “Challenging the orthodoxy, broadcasting common sense and transforming our media landscape. So long may it continue."

In case you missed it, that is a warning to all of us who value democracy and free speech. Additional to the fact that GB News is regarded so favourably by Liz Truss and her ilk is the imminent arrival of Boris Johnson as a GB News presenter in the build-up to the next general election. Dorothy Byrne again:

 "Boris Johnson joins GB News in the run-up to the next General Election. We will then have Johnson, a known liar, as the most important presenter on a right-wing television channel which has flagrantly breached regulations that protect the fairness, accuracy and due impartiality of political coverage".

The warning could not be clearer. While, hopefully, most us will ignore GB News, there are many who won't. Let's hope Ofcom finds some courage - enough to deal with GB News and the other right-wing TV channels.

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