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GB News is right to cry foul over intolerance, but a siege mentality won’t help

GB News is right to cry foul over intolerance, but a siege mentality won’t help
GB News (L-R): Incident at awards do; presenter Dan Wootton (Pictures: GB News/YouTube)
Opinion: 100% Media 0% Nonsense

GB News is right to complain about abuse against is commercial chief and advertisers should remember why media neutrality matters. But its silence over the Dan Wootton allegations is surprising, writes the editor.

Something awful was reported this month that did not receive nearly enough attention.

Nicole O’Shea, the commercial director of GB News, appeared to have been the victim of abusive language and violent physical gestures at an awards event hosted by The Drum in Manchester.

This created what was described as a “very intimidating atmosphere,” which was captured on video and shared via social media.

Now, whatever you think of GB News, its journalistic style, or its politics, there is no place in this industry for individuals — particularly those who are not even responsible for editorial content — to be publicly humiliated like this. From the audio I heard, it seems that a group of intoxicated agency men thought they would be clever to F-bomb this woman from the comfort of their seats as she took to the stage.

It is not only a pathetic way to behave at a public event, but it is also an attack on the very principle of media neutrality in advertising. Yes: individual advertisers are free to choose where and how to spend their money.  But blocking certain media owners over their content is bad for our industry. 

Neutrality matters

Media neutrality requires that advertisers are unbiased and free from any conflicts of interest. They and their agencies should not favour media platforms that offer incentives or kickbacks for placing ads. They should not remove a legally compliant media channel from the schedule just because they personally do not like the channel’s brand of politics. That’s how media agencies provide their clients with well-informed and unbiased advertising strategies.

I said as much when GB News launched two years ago and was already the target of advertising boycotts. We have a broadcast regulator to ensure GB News adheres to certain editorial standards, and GB News is licensed by Ofcom, which has many restrictive rules over political speech on TV. There simply could not be a version of Fox News in the UK because of how we regulate TV.

So I agree with GB News CEO Angelos Frangopolous when he criticises the “outrageous bullying” levelled at his employee. I suspect he is correct when he says that no one called it out at the time because “they feel silenced by the ever-present threat of cancel culture.”

Frangopolous adds: “It is time to call time on intolerance and to accept that not everyone agrees or sees the world in the same way. In any liberal democracy, the plurality of media is an overwhelmingly good thing.”

He is right, but bullying should not be tolerated anywhere, not just publicly. We know how pernicious bullying can be within workplaces, and it is important that people feel they can tell employers when they feel they have been the victim of abuse behind closed doors. This should apply, too in media, whether it is in a broadcast studio, an agency office, a national newsroom, or online.

Serious allegations

It just so happened that this incident took place a couple of weeks before a set of serious allegations were levelled against GB News presenter Dan Wootton by the Byline Times. Among the allegations, which date back to Wootton’s time at The Sun, are that he hid behind fake online identities to trick and bribe men into revealing compromising sexual material.

Wootton denies criminal wrongdoing. Not only that, but he has been on the offensive, using his first appearance on TV since the story to broke to rail against “dark forces” that are at work to “smear” him. While no writs are known to have yet been served against Byline, Wootton is personally crowdfunding libel action and, remembering the UK has some of the toughest libel laws against publishers in the world, has six years to make a claim.

But from GB News itself, there has complete silence. Not even a boiler-plate statement to say: “GB News takes allegations of this nature seriously”. To be clear, I did approach Frangopolous and a spokesperson to comment on questions for this article, but to no avail.

It’s also surprising that Wootton has not been temporarily taken off air. It’s standard operating procedure for media owners to temporarily remove talent from the front line when allegations of this type are made. It is not an admission of wrongdoing; it is simply a signal that the company takes the allegations seriously and wants to lower the temperature.

This is exactly what MailOnline publisher DMGT has done — Wootton’s column has not appeared since the allegations were made. And The Sun publisher News UK has reportedly been in correspondence with MPs about what investigations it has made about what Wootton did while he was there as a showbiz correspondent. Both publishers have said they are looking into the Wootton allegations.

Siege mentality

I’m sure, if they were willing to comment, GB News bosses would point out that Wootton was not their employee when the allegations were supposed to have happened. But my argument is that this isn’t enough for a TV broadcaster whose words and deeds can be highly influential.

As Frangopolous points out, abuse shouldn’t be tolerated. To me, zero tolerance means we don’t tolerate abuse when it happens in the future, we don’t tolerate it when it’s happening now, and we don’t tolerate it when it happened in the past. If something did happen in this case, a broadcaster in the full glare of public attention should go above and beyond to show it is taking action.

Or perhaps, they would argue, I’m seeing this with a “mainstream media” bias. GB News presenters love to rail against the so-called MSM because, as another primetime presenter Mark Dolan said shortly after the channel launched: “the more they attack us from the outside, the stronger we get”.

In other words, a siege mentality has taken root in this organisation from the beginning. That’s up to them, but surely it’s a strategy with diminishing returns — at some point you surely have to show willingness to be part of the media community and, for want of a better way to put it: to do the done thing.

GB News has been broadcasting in the UK for two years and, whatever you think of them, it deserves to be treated fairly by this industry. Media neutrality is an important principle worth preserving.

But complaining about abuse will seem hollow if you’re not willing to show how serious you are about ensuring your own house is in order. You can still defend your star from false accusations and “smears”. But, unlike what happened in public to Nicole O’Shea, abuse in media is not always obvious to see or hear.

Omar Oakes is editor of The Media Leader and leads the publication’s TV coverage. ‘100% Media 0% Nonsense’ is a weekly column about the state of media and advertising. Make sure you sign up to our daily newsletter to get this column in your inbox every Monday. 

Nick Drew, CEO, Fuse Insights, on 02 Aug 2023
“>Ofcom, which has many restrictive rules over political speech on TV. There simply could not be a version of Fox News in the UK because of how we regulate TV. Mmmm... But how do you define "a version of Fox News" here? Two Tory MPs - one of the most senior and one of the most outspoken - have their own shows, with no clear indication that "they must make sure a range of views are reflected in their programme" [per Ofcom]. Nigel Farage being able to use that platform to turn "bank applies account limits to man (who happens to have his own TV show)" into the dominant news story for 2 weeks probably isn't a checkmark in the "impartial, high quality broadcasting" column. Arguably even Dan Wootton himself rather falls into the "slightly sweaty-looking white man railing against the establishment (that has provided him with a very productive career)" image showcased by Fox News. GB News and TalkTV are undoubtedly drawing ire in part just for pushing the limits of what people - and the media establishment - expect from TV; but they're not exactly distancing themselves from those Fox News comparisons. None of which detracts from your first point, that yelling abuse at an event at the commercial director is unacceptable regardless of broadcaster, brand or political leaning”
Zillah loewe, N/A, N/A, on 31 Jul 2023
“I don't think you can say there has been no comment. Dan Wootten on his own show opened it with the facts of the case which he said is not true and that he intends ro fight it, hence silence until after court. So it was covered on GBN but of course until resolved just repeating the false allegations from a toxic ex of his wouldn't be news it would still be one sided and until the libel case against the journal reporting this is over, silence is the best defence.”

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