Following presenter Laurence Fox’s spectacularly bad-taste tirade on GB News last week about a female journalist, we’ve since heard demands for tough action against GB News itself. It may have already suspended Fox and fellow presenter Dan Wootton, who failed to intervene during said tirade. But many members of our political and media class, from broadcaster Adam Boulton to Tory MP Caroline Nokes, don’t think that’s enough. They want to close the channel down entirely.
Several people have quite rightly pointed out that these calls are unhinged. They amount to an authoritarian demand to close down anything that diverges from the smug, metropolitan outlook of most of the mainstream media. But what’s worrying about these unhinged calls is that in the shape of Ofcom there is a state-backed body that could do just that – close down a TV station or fine it heavily because an influential group is offended by its content. Ofcom really is that great a threat to free speech.
Set up as a super-ministry by Tony Blair in 2003, Ofcom assumed responsibility for two areas: boringly technical matters, such as allocating radio frequencies; and dealing with complaints about material appearing on radio and TV, which includes ensuring that all news is presented with ‘due impartiality’ and that all programming avoids ‘harmful and / or offensive material’. Ofcom has performed this latter function with increasing zeal. It intervened, for example, in 2020 to make sure no one strayed too far from the accepted line on Covid.