Subscribe to our newsletter for exclusive editorial emails from the Byline Times Team.
GB News has just been found to have breached impartiality rules by regulator Ofcom for the third time since its launch in 2021.
The decision centres around an episode of Saturday Morning with Esther and Phil, the discussion programme hosted by the Conservative MP husband and wife duo Esther McVey and Philip Davies. In something resembling a broadcast from a post-coup state, the show featured a pre-recorded interview between the pair and their own party’s Chancellor Jeremy Hunt, talking about the Government’s economic policy ahead of the spring budget.
The programme received 45 complaints, and the investigation found that during the discussions “no real attention was given anywhere in the programme to the viewpoints of politicians, political parties, organisations or individuals that either, for example, criticised, opposed or put forward policy alternatives to the viewpoints given by the three Conservative politicians.”
Esther and Phil aren’t the only Conservative politicians controversially hosting shows on the channel to have come under fire, with three of the four most recent investigations concerning sitting MPs.
Given multiple failures to adhere to basic regulatory standards on GB News, the revolving door between the channel and politicians raises serious questions about the appropriateness of public officials continuing to accept lucrative positions with the broadcaster. Conservative MPs have been paid nearly £350,000 for appearances on GB News since the start of 2023, Byline Times analysis shows.
Don’t miss a story
GB News also acts as an unofficial home for the small but vocal number of Conservatives on the further right of the Party, who have been increasingly playing to the anti-immigration and culture war oriented audiences of parties like Reform and Reclaim. Senior members of those parties feature prominently on GB News’ output.
The channel routinely broadcasts conspiratorial talking points, acting as an unofficial platform for fringe parties and projects on the right. Coupled with the reputational harm of appearing on a broadcaster so frequently found to have fallen foul of regulators, how soon is too soon to ask: “when will Conservative politicians end their love affair with GB News?”
While the four most recent Ofcom investigations cover serious potential breaches over a short space of time, they only touch upon a fraction of GB News’ output. There are currently six further active investigations into the channel, including two further episodes of Esther and Phil, two episodes of Jacob Rees-Mogg’s ‘State of the Nation’, and investigations into Reclaim leader Laurence Fox’s show (guest-presented by the party’s former deputy leader Martin Daubney) and an episode of ‘The Live Desk’.
Four of these investigations include possible breaches of rules limiting politicians acting as presenters, and three cover potential breaches of impartiality.
Since the channel was established in June 2021, three further investigations have concluded that GB News and one on ‘To The Point’ (GB News radio), have fallen short of expected standards.
These follow on from the broadcaster being found in breach of Ofcom regulations for a segment on Mark Steyn’s show, featuring anti-vaccine conspiracy theorist Naomi Wolf. During the broadcast, Wolf repeatedly made unopposed claims that the Covid-19 vaccine rollout amounted to “mass murder”, as well as comparing it to “doctors in pre-Nazi Germany”.
This was the second time the channel was found by the regulator to have pushed misleading Covid conspiracies, after another episode of Steyn’s show was found to have “presented a materially misleading interpretation of official data without sufficient challenge or counterweight, risking harm to viewers”. Steyn has since left the channel.
And three GB News shows were recently collectively hit with over 400 complaints in a single week at the end of August this year, hosted by Nigel Farage, Dan Wootton, and Mark Dolan.
In a discussion on his show covering gang violence at the Kabaddi Tournament in Derby, Farage said – without evidence – that the “finger of blame” lay with people linked to the Khalistan separatist movement, which strives to create a homeland for Sikhs.
The Sikh Federation UK strongly criticised the segment, arguing that Farage’s programme “was inaccurate and biased, misrepresented the facts, was offensive, misleading, discriminatory, spread hate, and was unfair”. A senior officer for the Sikh Press Association said: “The GB News piece may be the worst example of anti-Sikh reporting from a UK news org I have seen in nearly nine years of covering Sikhs in UK media.” (Nigel Farage was contacted for comment).
Conspiracies and Cock Ups
The same week as the Kabaddi controversy, Mark Dolan’s show was hit with 74 complaints when presenter Patrick Christys ‘joked’ with a guest that “If you had one fake gun and one fake bullet and you lined up Harry and James Corden, I don’t know which one you’d go for.”
In January, GB News expressed that it was going to try and cut costs amid rows with Ofcom, with chairman Alan McCormick aiming to make the channel more “disciplined”. Since then, it has been hit with over 1,000 further complaints to Ofcom concerning eight separate broadcasts, Byline Times’ analysis of Ofcom’s weekly complaint review reveals.
The two most commonly complained about were Tonight with Dan Wootton and Neil Oliver Live. Oliver left his position at the Royal Society of Edinburgh (RSE) with immediate effect on 6 September, after it became apparent that “his current views on various matters, widely aired on television, put him at odds with scientific and broader academic learning within the Society”, a spokesperson said.
Oliver is frequently criticised for mainstreaming climate denialism and vaccine scepticism, both on GB News and on social media. Two days after his departure from the RSE, he tweeted: “Anyone fancy a Revolution? I could just go for a Revolution right about now”, later adding “I meant what I said”.
Oliver and Christys aren’t the only two GB News personalities to have engaged in discourse which appeared to incite violence. Another Ofcom complaint was filed by Extinction Rebellion (XR) media spokesperson Tom Hardy, concerning an interview Dan Wootton gave on his show to Sherrilyn Speid – the driver who ran into Insulate Britain protests in her Range Rover.
During the interview, Wootton asks Speid “How tempted were you, Sherrilyn, to go a little bit harder into those women?”. As previously reported by Byline Times, Hardy’s complaint was ignored by Ofcom, representing part of an alleged ongoing failure of the regulator to take action on climate denialism platformed by GB News.
Government plans to achieve net zero have been labelled variously “a suicide note”, an “asphyxiating straitjacket”, and “wrongheaded” by GB News guests and presenters, who have openly advocated “the benefits of fossil fuels in industrial civilisation” while heavily promoting fracking.
A joint investigation by DeSmog and the Guardian in May found that one in three GB News hosts had spread climate denial on air in 2022, while a majority attacked meaningful action on climate change.
Freedom of (Hate) Speech?
As reported by Byline Times, GB News host and former ‘lads mag’ Loaded editor Martin Daubney is among those on the GB News roster pushing attacks on net zero, as well as adopting the language of antisemitic conspiracy theories. And he has broadcasted unverified and ultimately false anti-asylum seeker stories sourced from far-right Telegram chats on air.
Research from Hope not Hate reveals that the frequent anti-migrant coverage conducted by GB News has led them to platform far-right supporters more than once. In one interview in July, they spotlighted Dan Morgan, co-leader of the far-right Voice of Wales outlet, and during another broadcast from Surbiton the same month hosted ‘local resident’ Janie Still, a conspiracy theorist and supporter of Britain First.
Presenters of the show have, on several occasions, made other nods to far-right tropes more commonly found on Telegram and 4chan, including the racist “great replacement” theory – that mass migration is “replacing” British culture – and anti-semitic conspiracies surrounding the World Economic Forum, George Soros and a “globalist elite” controlling media narratives. Dan Wootton used his show after Byline Times’ investigation into him was published to condemn a supposed “smear campaign” by “dark forces”.
A segment from Mark Dolan’s show in 2022 has him asking: “Is the Prince in fact a puppet of the World Economic Forum and the World Hell Organisation, as I like to call it? I hope not – but he’s ticking all the right boxes”.
Host Beverley Turner was recently criticised by the Community Security Trust (CST) – which campaigns against antisemitic threats – for tweeting that the Coronavirus appeared to be bioengineered to be less harmful to certain Jewish people, adding: “This is looking increasingly like a bio weapon to destroy the west. Why is this not on the front pages of every paper?”. That caused even some Conservatives to break rank and call out the offensive language.
Tory MP Nicola Richards, chair of the all-party parliamentary group on antisemitism, said at the time: “The answer to the question Bev poses in her tweet is that no self-respecting publisher or broadcaster would share this antisemitic conspiratorial fantasy, and neither should she.”
Turner has come under fire again this week, for defending Russell Brand against reporting into his history of alleged sexual assault, emotional abuse, and rape, which she did without watching the Channel 4 Despatches investigation (by her own admission, on air). She doubled down on her original tweet which expressed that Brand was a “hero”, “being attacked”, and that he’d be “welcome on my GB News show anytime”.
While defenders like to point out GB News’ claims that it puts “free speech first”, in practice this often amounts to the “right kind” of free speech, and on more than one occasion commentators have felt as if they can no longer support the channel because of its bias.
Presenter India Willoughby refused to appear on the programme again in 2021, after previously agreeing to do a weekly appearance on Tonight With Dan Wootton. On departure, Willoughby accused GB News of “demonising trans people at every opportunity”.
Former presenter Guto Harri also left in 2021, after being suspended for taking the knee, an expression of his rejection of racism. GB News said he’d broken “editorial standards” by doing so, but didn’t apply the same logic to Nigel Farage, who following Harri told viewers that he “will not be taking the knee for anyone”. The channel even proved too much for Andrew Neil who quit after just a few months of its launch.
Writing in the Sunday Times, Harri described the channel as “becoming an absurd parody of what it proclaimed to be”, adding that “taking the knee is now a simple, bold statement that you reject racism. And if that’s an issue for a channel or government, it’s a big problem for all of us.”
After the departure of Mark Steyn following his penalties for breaking Ofcom rules earlier this year, the channel said that “GB News takes Ofcom compliance extremely seriously. All our presenters are expected to comply fully with the broadcast code and there are no exceptions”, though moving forward it appears GB News is already considering plans to undermine regulatory oversight.
It was announced last week that it is planning to move some of its more controversial presenters to online streaming and away from traditional broadcast TV, bypassing Ofcom enforcement. Meanwhile, Reform UK leader Richard Tice is moving over from TalkTV to GB News, the latest hard-right partisan addition to the team.
Gail Bradbrook, co-founder of Extinction Rebellion, told Byline Times: “Our media is largely a pathology of divide and rule alongside infantilising distraction. GB News is at the leading edge of this depravity. Where is their responsibility to our children, our nature, a country that can pull together in adversity? None of that, and anything for a fast buck. We desperately need responsible journalism.”
GB News and several of its presenters were contacted for comment.
Do you have a story that needs highlighting? Get in touch by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org