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A BBC producer informed an MP interviewed by the broadcaster about GB News’ suspension of Dan Wootton that he was not allowed to mention the allegations in Byline Times’ investigation into the presenter because they are “unfounded”.
SNP MP John Nicolson – a member of the House of Commons’ Culture, Media and Sport Committee – was interviewed by Evan Davis for BBC Radio 4’s PM show on Wednesday following Wootton’s suspension from GB News in a misogyny storm along with actor-turned-activist Laurence Fox. The topic focused on how regulator Ofcom should respond to the broadcaster.
On the show, Mr Nicolson said “I was very interested in the investigation by Byline Times into Dan Wootton. It was a very good piece…” – before Mr Davis intervened and said “I don’t want to go into unrelated issues”.
Mr Davis then asked Mr Nicolson whether there was a danger that his views amounted to wanting to censor channels which give a platform to opinions that he didn’t like, to which the MP replied: “I don’t want censorship, I want Ofcom to enforce its own rules. And the point I was going to make is, you said the channel had responded by suspending Dan Wootton… there have been serious accusations about Dan Wootton for some time which have received remarkably little coverage in the press and which are worthy of investigation.”
Mr Davis responded by saying “well, that’s not what we’re discussing here”. To which Mr Nicolson said: “Well, it’s relevant because he’s a presenter on the channel and he’s now been suspended.”
“We’ll leave it there,” was how Mr Davis then ended the interview.
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Byline Times’ special investigation into Wootton has exposed allegations that he used fake online identities to obtain compromising sexual material on a number of men. Although he has never denied being, or being connected to, the identities of ‘Martin Branning’ and ‘Maria Joseph’, Wootton denies any criminality.
Following the PM exchange, Mr Nicolson said he thought it was “odd behaviour by the BBC presenter” and that he had “never experienced anything quite like it in a BBC interview”. As a former journalist and MP, he said there was no danger in him saying anything potentially libellous with regards to the allegations against Wootton because of his knowledge of the law and media.
Byline Times understands that, after the programme aired, a producer contacted Mr Nicolson to explain that the show did not want to discuss this newspaper’s allegations because they are “unfounded”. The MP questioned this, with the investigation being detailed and well-sourced against which Wootton has not taken any legal action.
Indeed, as a result of the investigation, Wootton’s former employer, News UK, hired independent legal counsel – Kingsley Napley LLP – in order to conduct an investigation into the allegations. MailOnline had already paused his column pending an investigation because of the allegations. The Guardian newspaper even briefly followed-up on Byline Times’ investigation, publishing an article with its own sources setting out how Wootton engaged in the use of false online identities.
Meanwhile, the chair of the parliamentary committee on which Mr Nicolson sits, Conservative MP Dame Caroline Dinenage, has written to News UK, DMG Media and GB News asking all of these organisations to explain what action they have taken as a result of the allegations published by Byline Times.
A BBC spokesperson did not provide an answer as to why the show’s producer told Mr Nicolson that the allegations are “unfounded”.
They said: “The nature of live news programmes and a packed news agenda often means we have limited time to cover stories. In this instance, the discussion focused on GB News, its place in the broadcasting landscape and regulation by Ofcom in light of the comments made by Laurence Fox on the channel.
“We did not have time to explore beyond this subject matter which would have required further context and explanation for listeners.”
Mr Nicolson’s PM interview was scheduled to last three minutes and this newspaper understands that the BBC’s official position is that it would have needed much more time to explore the details of Byline Times’ allegations to provide context and Wootton with a right of reply.