In my column in this week’s Spectator I’ve written about the bust-up between Mark Steyn and GB News. For those interested, I also talked about it in London Calling and the Weekly Sceptic. If you haven’t been following this brouhaha, Mark had been hosting a show on the channel for over a year, but took a break in December after suffering two heart attacks. When he was ready to return last month, GB News asked him to sign a contract which would have made his company liable for any fines imposed by Ofcom as a result of a “regulatory breach” unless he and his producers agreed to attend Ofcom training laid on by the channel and “incorporate Ofcom regulatory input” into the show. He refused and accused GB News of presenting him with a fait accompli that he couldn’t accept. Many people believe this is a free speech issue and the channel should not have asked Mark to give any such undertaking. But I’m not convinced – at least, not yet.
First let’s deal with the question of whether GB News has breached Mark’s speech rights. I should begin by saying I think Mark’s a terrific broadcaster. One of the things which makes him so good is his unwillingness to bend the knee to anyone – he is absolutely fearless. That’s why The Mark Steyn Show, which I sometimes appeared on, was such compelling viewing and regularly beat other news channels in its time slot. When it came to the most controversial issues of the day – Covid vaccines, the war in Ukraine, Net Zero – he didn’t just challenge the prevailing orthodoxy; he beat it to a pulp and then tossed it out with the rubbish.
Great television, but not always Ofcom-compliant television. Which created a bit of a headache for GB News. The regulator is investigating complaints about two of Mark’s shows, one from April in which he claimed that some statistics published by the U.K. Health Security Agency showed the triple-jabbed are more likely to die from Covid than the unvaccinated, and another from October in which he interviewed the American author Naomi Wolf, who described the rollout of the vaccines as “mass murder”. If those complaints are upheld, GB News could face significant fines. In 2008, for instance, Ofcom fined ITV £5,675,000 for breaching the Broadcasting Code. Even more seriously, Ofcom could withdraw GB News’s broadcasting licence if it concludes the channel isn’t taking the code seriously, as it did Russia Today’s.
It’s understandable, therefore, that GB News took steps to mitigate those risks. It wasn’t asking Mark to indemnify it for any losses arising from the ongoing investigations – just from future investigations if he and his producers didn’t follow the advice of the channel’s compliance officer. I don’t think making this a condition of Mark’s show continuing, given the regulatory environment it’s operating in, was a breach of his speech rights.