Friday, 21 Jun 2024

Minister demands Ofcom probe as presenter says GB News must stay on air

Laurence Fox comments which GB News called ‘unacceptable’

Ofcom must investigate GB News after the “unacceptable and disgraceful” on-air behaviour of Dan Wootton and Laurence Fox, a Cabinet minister has demanded.

Michelle Donelan said regulators had to take the response to the “next stage” after both men were suspended by the broadcaster following Reclaim Party leader Fox’s remarks about a female journalist. Wootton laughed in response to the widely criticised remarks by the actor-turned-politician, who asked about Ava Evans: “Who would want to s*** that?”

However, Wootton’s fellow GB News presenter, Mark Dolan, has said the channel must not be “cancelled” – but slammed Fox’s “offensive comments” as “sexist” and “misogynistic”. Dolan said: “Unfortunately, this awful episode plays into the hands of our critics”.

Read more… Laurence Fox throws Dan Wootton under bus after GB News host’s ‘fake apology’

Issuing an apology, Wootton said his “inappropriate” reaction to the remarks about the political correspondent for online news site Joe was a “very unfortunate lapse in judgment”. But GB News suspended Wootton, having already taken action against fellow host Fox, and launched a “full investigation”.

Now, Michelle Donelan, the Technology Secretary, is calling for further action from the regulator. She told Sky News’ Politics Hub: “Ofcom really do need to look at this.

“I was quite shocked and taken aback by the level of the comments made and the response of Dan on that show. It was completely unacceptable. 

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“I’m glad that GB News took decisive action and suspended both of them quickly today, but there needs to be the next stage now and Ofcom really needs to be looking at this.”

But the Tory MP, who has multiple colleagues with their own GB News shows, said she would not “boycott” the broadcaster, arguing it was is an “isolated incident” and not “a symptom of a broader problem at all”. She said GB News needs to learn “big lessons” such as “why was this ever viewed as acceptable in modern Britain”, and investigate whether the conversation had been “pre-agreed”.

Tory MP Caroline Nokes, who chairs the Commons Women and Equalities Committee, said that the regulator must investigate the “blatantly misogynistic, outdated, hideous attitudes”.

“I think there is a really serious case to answer and I hope that Ofcom can conclude its investigations as swiftly as possible,” she told BBC Newsnight.

Ofcom said it has received “a number of complaints” about Fox’s remarks about Ms Evans on Dan Wootton Tonight, adding: “We are assessing these complaints against our broadcast rules and will publish the outcome as quickly as possible.”

Meanwhile, Mark Dolan – who was covering the 9pm slot on GB News on Wednesday evening – defended the channel, but not Wootton or Fox, Dolan said: “Whether Laurence should stay on air is not my decision and Dan’s absence tonight is also beyond my control.

“There is an investigation ongoing, but the comments made by Laurence in my view were sexist, misogynistic and, unusually, in the frenzied climate of the so-called culture wars, have been condemned across the political spectrum from left and right.”

The presenter said the channel is “rewriting the rulebook” on current affairs broadcasting and garnering a “fast-growing and incredibly loyal audience”. He added: “Whilst we’re here for the many people in this country, who feel they do not have a voice, the truth is, we’re here for everyone.”

Laurence Fox suspended by GB News

Dolan continued: “People are coming to us in their numbers across all political colours, because they want a different angle, a different approach and they want debate. They want a diversity of opinion and they want it done with wit and wisdom.

“Fiery and good-humoured, but respectful and fair too, that is the GB News way. We didn’t have that last night. In the end, a hard lesson has been learned.

“We have freedom of speech, but not freedom from the fallout.”

During the exchange on Tuesday, Fox was asked about Ms Evans’ critical comments about suggestions there should be a minister for men to address mental ill health. She later said her remarks were “a little rash” and said she was “actually very interested in a brief for a minister on young men’s mental health”.

Ava Evans ‘really hurt’ after Laurence Fox’s comments

Wootton was seen to laugh after Fox said “show me a single self-respecting man that would like to climb into bed with that woman, ever, ever, who wasn’t an incel?”

“That little woman has been fed, spoon-fed oppression day after day after day… starting with the lie of the gender wage gap, and she’s sat there and I’m going, if I met you in a bar and that was like sentence three, chances of me just walking away are just huge,” Fox said.

“We need powerful, strong, amazing women who make great points for themselves, we don’t need these sort of feminist 4.0… they’re pathetic and embarrassing. Who would want to s*** that?”

Wootton, a former executive editor at The Sun, offered “a touch of balance”, saying that Ms Evans expressed regret at her comments “but she didn’t apologise… and she’s a very beautiful woman, Laurence… very beautiful woman”.

Conservative MP Philip Davies, who hosts a show on GB News, told the PA news agency: “Laurence Fox’s disgraceful remarks were completely unacceptable, unjustifiable and indefensible.”

Lee Anderson, Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg and Esther McVey are among the other Tory MPs who host shows on GB News.

Ms Evans said Fox’s comments made her feel “physically sick”. She told the BBC Newscast podcast she had received an apology from GB News, but had not decided whether to accept it, adding: “Let’s just see how the investigation goes.”

Wootton said through his lawyer that “he remains sincere in his desire to apologise personally” to Ms Evans.

Fox, however, is unrepentant. The 45-year-old, whose previous acting credits include Gosford Park and Elizabeth: The Golden Age, said he stands “by every word of what I said”.

In a statement issued this morning Fox said: “If a woman wants to go on television and belittle male suicide, she is totally within her rights to do so and not apologise, just as I am totally within my rights to say that I wouldn’t want to shag a hyper offended 4th wave feminist and not apologise, just as people are totally within their rights to be offended by my stating I would run a mile in the opposite direction from women like her, should our paths cross in a bar. It’s called free speech.

“I realise that the new woke world is low on laughter and high on offence, but it’s still worth trying to find the lighter moments in this joyless new cancel culture which has been created for us. This lady has said on air that she wants men to be ‘frightened’ and ‘terrified’. Tumbleweed from the media at her premeditation and malevolence. Because it’s not a man saying it. Which rather proves my point.”

Fox founded the Reclaim Party in October 2020 after an appearance on the BBC’s news panel show Question Time earlier that year, which the actor said resulted in him being “cancelled from a 21-year acting career”. According to its website, the party exists to challenge “woke orthodoxy” and promote “freedom of speech”, which it views as being “under grave peril”.

After the show, GB News described Fox’s comments as “totally unacceptable”, adding: “What he said does not reflect our values and we apologise unreservedly for the comments and the offence they have caused.”

Wootton apologised, saying that he can see how “inappropriate my reaction to his totally unacceptable remarks appears to be and want to be clear that I was in no way amused by the comments”.

He said he had reacted “out of shock and surprise in an off-guard moment while working out how to respond”.

“I apologise unreservedly for what was a very unfortunate lapse in judgment on my part under the intense pressure of a bizarre exchange. I know I should have done better. I’m devastated that I let down the team and our supportive GBN family,” he added.

The apology provoked a row with Fox, however, who revealed messages online which insinuated he and Wootton had shared laughing emojis about the incident in private. Saying “honesty is the best policy”, he published a messenger dialogue that began with: “Making you giggle is my weekly joy.”

The response followed: “You can imagine them freaking out in the gallery!!!!!”

Fox also claimed in the series of tweets that he had done a “pre-interview” with the channel “so they knew exactly what I intended to say”.

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