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Artillery Row

The opportunistic assault on GB News

This is an attempt to shut down the competition

A long, long time ago, last week, British politicians and commentators were fulminating about the many sins of Russell Brand. One of the more infamous was the time when he and Jonathan Ross called up Andrew Sachs of Fawlty Towers fame on BBC Radio 2 to gloat about how Brand had slept with his granddaughter. This was embarrassing for Mr Sachs, of course, but it was doubly embarrassing for Georgina Baillie — a young woman who had her sex life exposed to the public just so two assholes could have a laugh on air.

It was a scandal, but the consequences were limited. Mr Ross was suspended but not fired in the aftermath of the incident. Mr Brand resigned but ended up with some nice gigs in Hollywood. Aside from Charles Moore, who refused to pay his license fee, no one was calling for the BBC to get defunded. In fact, left-wing columnists like Marina Hyde made fun of Ms Baillie for complaining about the incident (“they were total scumbags, but it’s over. O-V-A-H”). Hyde apologised last month, but said she had been opposing opportunistic attacks on the BBC.

Say what you like about Laurence Fox’s unpleasant sexual comments towards the left-wing journalist Ava Evans on GB News, but they were not half as obnoxious as Brand’s and Ross’s towards Andrew Sachs. Brand and Ross dwelled at length on embarrassing Sachs and Baillie over real life incidents, while Fox delivered offhandedly unpleasant comments about a fictional scenario. Both are nasty, yes, but there’s really no comparison. If Fox said that about your daughter you might want to slap him but if Brand and Ross said that to your dad about your daughter you’d want to hunt them down Taken style.

So, why was Sachsgate just an embarrassing blip on BBC programming while Foxgate is cause, according to various journalists and politicians, for GB News to get shut down? Sky’s Adam Boulton and Caroline Nokes MP of the Conservatives have been vociferously agreeing on BBC Newsnight that GB News should get “taken off air” — a claim that would have seemed unthinkably ridiculous in 2008. 

Back then, Charlie Brooker — the Guardian columnist who went on to create Black Mirror complained that the hysterical response to “an ill-advised bit of juvenalia” might lead to “an increase in BBC jumpiness”. Returning to the subject in his next column, he lamented the “kneejerk Ofcom clocking” that could lead to the “overall toning down of any and all potentially “offensive” TV material, which in turn could deprive us of authentic gems in the future”. Hm, fair point. 

Mr Brooker said that people “who retrospectively complain to Ofcom about material they’ve only read about second-hand are, in essence, a bunch of sanctimonious crybabies indulging in a wretched form of masturbation.” Intriguing argument. You aren’t going to hear it when it comes to GB News.

the scale of this controversy has not been the result of Mr Fox’s comments as much as politics

But that’s because the scale of this controversy has not been the result of Mr Fox’s comments as much as politics. Mainstream liberal and left-wing commentators don’t like GB News and have seized upon a chance to get it taken off air. Seeking an “overall toning down” is the point — but not just of intrusive sexual remarks but political incorrectness as a whole.

Adam Boulton said something revealing. “I think there is a delicate and important broadcast ecology in this country,” he said, “I think GB News is trying to bust that ecology, and frankly, what Ofcom should do is shut it down.”

What a racket! You couldn’t find a more explicit assertion of the view that the establishment doesn’t like uncontrollable competition and wants to get it squelched. What has this “broadcast ecology” done that its preservation is so essential? I don’t think the British media does that good a job. Do you?

Still, with Ofcom being crammed with various sympathetic luvvies, Mr Boulton and his peers have a decent chance. Melanie Dawes, its Chief Executive, was Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (and what a fine job they do) and was Civil Service Gender Champion and Civil Service Diversity and Inclusion Champion. I’m sure that GB News will get a fair hearing from her.

I’ve written about how GB News should make changes to its product to be more effective. Still, if it is to continue to exist in any kind of oppositional form, it cannot sink into a defensive posture. It must appreciate that the people who seek its closure are not doing so in the name of Ava Evans but in the name of Britain’s weed-strewn “broadcast ecology” — trying to kill off any chance it has of being successful like a plant releasing chemicals into the soil.

Meanwhile, Conservative MPs who appear on the platform should not mumble apologies — how many Labour politicians stopped appearing on the BBC in 2008? — but should think about what role Ofcom might play when Prime Minister Keir Starmer is in government. If you don’t believe that it could be his voluntary attack dog, I’ve got a media start-up to sell you.

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