For months if not years, GB News had been existing in an uncomfortable grey area. A moment was coming which would expose the fragility of its current regulation; the laxity by which it has been operating since its foundation two years ago.
And it now looks as if that moment has finally come. Perhaps there was no candidate more likely to produce this than Laurence Fox, the actor turned right-wing political campaigner. He is one of the several GB News figures without prior journalistic experience, a glorified and explosive commentator in this new and unrefined media environment.
Not the first demonstration of what has been Ofcom’s inability to truly reckon with the beast GB News is becoming
His remarks were undoubtedly unsavoury, largely unbecoming of anything that would be aired on a so-called news and current affairs channel, and have been widely condemned. They were also offensive and deeply personal, targeted at the JOE journalist, Ava Evans. But they were also not the first demonstration of what has been Ofcom’s inability to truly reckon with the beast GB News is becoming.
The regulator has not kept pace with the network’s rapid and now undeniable growth. GB News is fast becoming one of the most watched and quickly rising media outlets in the United Kingdom. Its war for right-wing TV space with the Rupert Murdoch-backed Talk TV is one it is currently winning with ease (see Reform leader Richard Tice’s direct transfer for proof of this). The draw of its top talent, such as former UKIP and Brexit Party leader, Nigel Farage, is gaining it a moderate but fiercely loyal audience. For many on the left, it was enough until now to simply ridicule the station, but when it comes to its regulation, this is a head-in-the-sand tactic.
Of particular concern is GB News’s credibility as a news channel in its own right
GB News has continued to push the boundaries of regulation further and further. Many of its presenters, such as Michelle Dewberry in a recent live spat with journalist Michael Crick, will insist that the network is just as regulated as any other. And whilst on some occasions thus far Ofcom has seen fit to wade in, this has not yet been enough to stop its breach of editorial policy.
Of particular concern is GB News’s credibility as a news channel in its own right. The programme regularly parades an array of (largely Conservative) MPs, many of whom anchor programmes in the way their journalistic BBC or ITV counterparts may. A recent instance of this saw Esther McVey and Philip Davies, both Tory backbenchers, interview fellow Tory MP and Chancellor, Jeremy Hunt, on their show. This resulted in a slap on the wrist from Ofcom, but this has not stopped another presenter and Conservative MP Lee Anderson interviewing Home Secretary, Suella Braverman, on his own show this week.
It has been allowed to push the envelope further and further without significant Ofcom intervention
The media regulator has always maintained that it is not interested in the business of censorship, but the recurrent breaches and frequent complaints about GB News’s outputs suggests its current position is not sustainable. For too long the station’s editorial policy has been allowed to be run by its own scattergun judgement, often to the detriment of its journalism. The lines between what is news and what is opinion have become only more blurred.
In the wake of the Laurence Fox debacle, presenter Mark Dolan defended the station’s reputation live on air, suggesting it was “rewriting the rulebook on how current affairs broadcasting is done”. But in many ways, this is exactly the issue with GB News’s current position. It has been allowed to push the envelope further and further without significant Ofcom intervention, and the latest and most blatant breach of editorial policy surely indicates that there is a fresh need for clarity on its status. A new and defined ‘rulebook’, which brings GB News under clearer Ofcom guidance, would avoid persistent breaches whilst defending the very free speech GB News champions. Anything else equates to irresponsibility and kicks the can only further down the road.