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‘GB News, Grooming Gangs and Suella Braverman’s Racialised Tropes’

Why were sufficient numbers not outraged when the troubled broadcaster was giving a platform to dangerous views claiming Pakistani men are the main perpetrators of this form of child sexual abuse?

Home Secretary Suella Braverman. Photo: Colin Fisher/Alamy

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Former Home Secretary Priti Patel lauded GB News as “the most successful, most dynamic, no-nonsense news station” at this year’s Conservative Party Conference. This cosy relationship between an ‘independent’ news channel and politicians from a country’s governing party was best exemplified when Patel’s successor, Suella Braverman, launched what can only be described as a racial slur against British Pakistanis.

“A win of sorts” was how one anchor on GB News described Braverman’s new taskforce designed to crackdown on so called ‘grooming gangs’, first announced in a column in the Mail on Sunday in April.

The Centre for Media Monitoring (CFMM), which analyses coverage of Muslims in the media, found that Braverman’s claim, that almost all groomers were British Pakistanis, was false. The newspaper last week published a correction, which on the face of it is a remarkable occurrence given the office of the politician who wrote it. But the story of Braverman’s incendiary claim and its correction still leaves many questions – particularly around the shortcomings of Britain’s media regulators, which continue to allow Islamophobia largely unchecked. 

Firstly, it should be noted that the correction was no trivial matter. The racialised coverage of so called ‘grooming gangs’ in the decade since the scandal first broke in the British press has resulted in the murder of a pensioner in Rotherham, who when being kicked to death was called a groomer.

A worshipper was killed outside a London mosque by a van, driven by a man who was radicalised by a drama based on ‘grooming’ crimes against white girls in Rochdale.

Further afield, the most deadly incident of all was 51 Muslims being gunned down inside mosques in New Zealand by a white supremacist terrorist with a weapon on which he had written: “For Rotherham” – a reference to the crimes committed by men of Pakistani heritage in a small Yorkshire town, tens of thousands of miles away.

Words matter and, on this particular topic more so – given that innocent people are being murdered as a result.

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The press complaints body IPSO, while agreeing that Braverman’s statement was misleading, did not find that the Mail on Sunday had breached the editors code. It is not the first time that regulators have failed to challenge mistruths around the issue of grooming.

This has arguably given license to news outlets to racialise coverage as much as they please. Last August, the CFMM launched a complaint to broadcasting regulator Ofcom about a segment on GB News on the later sacked presenter Mark Steyn’s show, on which a guest was given free reign, and supported by Steyn, in launching conspiratorial diatribe on Muslims and their beliefs. These were suggested as the reasons for the supposed prevalence of ‘grooming gangs’ in Britain’s towns and cities. Ofcom did not respond.

Similarly, a so-called documentary on grooming gangs was found by an academic to have misrepresented evidence and cherry-picked sources to create a narrative which effectively told viewers that offenders had been let off the hook by political correctness. One of these men was found guilty for sex crimes against underage girls, yet the impression given to the viewer was that he had been let off. Ofcom has so far ignored the extensive list of evidence given to it.

The carte blanche effect of a prominent politician giving succour to racist tropes was seen in the news coverage, which over three days elicited no less than 25 examples of where the ethnicity of the perpetrators was said to be the main factor behind the crimes.

“Cousin marriage”, “foothills of Punjab”, “mosques”, an inferior culture, an “extraordinary primitiveness”, and even the P-word were used as part of the wall-to-wall coverage which GB News dedicated to the issue (in total, 59 unique clips – against just 29 from the five main broadcasters put together).

As one GB News guest gloated, the Home Secretary had “de-bugged” the debate, suggesting that the words of senior politicians carry major clout and can advance sinister forces. 

The analysis of Braverman’s policy cannot be described as the traditional ‘dog and lamppost affair’ which senior journalist Peter Hitchens suggests should be the proper relationship between a journalist and a politician. Instead, the atmosphere following Braverman’s call for mandatory reporting of sexual abuse was akin to political party headquarters on a triumphant election night.

It could be that the potential of vulnerable children being afforded some sort of protection from predators caused the jovial mood. But the coverage of Braverman’s false polemic against Pakistani men suggesting the racialised focus of Sunak’s new taskforce was likely the real reason. And it wasn’t just a GB News-Conservative love-in. Labour politician Stephen Pound said that the Asian community “have to accept a degree of culpability”. 

GB News may now be under pressure for its presenters and coverage, but its regular diet of launching attacks on Muslims has gone unpunished. Former press standards chief Sir Alan Moses departed from his role with the sentiment that newspapers talk about Muslims in a way in which they wouldn’t if they were referring to other religious communities. Given what is found coming from GB News, this appears to apply equally to broadcasters (perhaps to a greater extent). But it would be a mistake to see GB News as the sole culprit. 

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The most striking example of the journalistic failure in the coverage of the grooming gangs taskforce did not come from GB News but the BBC, no less, when Laura Kuenssberg – long criticised for her perceived cosy relationship with senior Conservative politicians – interviewed Braverman and made no challenge to the claim in her column that grooming was mainly being carried out by British Pakistanis – despite the Home Office’s own report saying the opposite. Instead, Braverman cited three reports, none of them being the one published by her own department. The fact this wasn’t picked upon is a dereliction of journalistic duty.

Even worse was the line of questioning, giving Braverman the chance to widen the blame for crimes to a communal level – something she seized upon after being asked whether some people in the British Pakistani community are complicit in abuse. This was then repeated, begging the question what exactly Kuenssberg was trying to achieve by this irresponsible quizzing.

There are now calls from journalists and MPs alike calling for GB News to be shut down. Yet, when one of its guests claimed that certain groups of black people and Muslims were chiefly responsible for antisemitism, or the copious conspiracy theories about Muslims that are its daily staple such as Sharia Law being ‘operational in large swathes of the United Kingdom’ no objections were raised.

While the report by the Centre for Media Monitoring shows this one channel standing out for its hate, it should be remembered that the conveyor belt of Islamophobia in the media started not with GB News. The Home Secretary’s column and the subsequent media reaction suggests that the tolerance for this sort of rhetoric remains undimmed and unchecked.

Faisal Hanif is the co-author of the CfMM report on ‘British TV Reporting on the Grooming Gangs Taskforce

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