Ofcom launches probe into GB News over Laurence Fox's sexist rant

Ofcom investigates GB News after 7,300 complaints over Laurence Fox’s sexist rant against Ava Evans as suspended host says he should have ‘dialled down the bar room banter’ and is now expecting the ‘chop’ 

Media watchdog Ofcom has launched a probe into GB News over Laurence Fox’s sexist rant after receiving around 7,300 complaints.

Fox was suspended on Wednesday after he was condemned for saying ‘Who would want to sh*g that?’ in a series of sexist comments about a female political journalist.

Ofcom was hit with a barrage of complaints following Tuesday night’s episode of Dan Wootton Tonight, prompting its investigation. 

It comes as Fox today admitted he ‘could and should’ have ‘dialled down the bar room banter’ following his lewd on-air rant against – as he revealed he’s ‘waiting for the chop’ ahead of his disciplinary meeting tomorrow with GB News executives.

Ofcom is investigating whether GB News broke the Broadcasting Code for standards by allowing Fox’s comments on air. 

Dame Melanie Dawes, Ofcom chief executive, said: ‘Over the last few days there has been speculation and commentary about our role as the independent broadcast regulator. These are important issues and I wanted to be clear about our rules.

Laurence Fox (right) spoke about Ava Evans during Dan Wootton (left) Tonight on Tuesday

Ava Evans, political correspondent for news website Joe, on ITV’s Good Morning Britain today

‘Parliament sets objectives on how the broadcast sector should be regulated. We set and enforce rules to achieve these objectives. Contrary to some claims, these rules remain unchanged.

‘They are designed to protect audiences from offensive and harmful material, and to uphold the integrity of broadcast news and current affairs programming, while always ensuring that freedom of expression is front and centre in every decision we take. This is highly valued by audiences and central to our democracy.

‘The decisions we take, always based on facts and evidence once a programme has aired, are vital if we are to protect our vibrant media landscape. We continue to apply and enforce these rules without fear or favour.’

During Tuesday’s episode of Dan Wootton Tonight, Fox mocked Ava Evans, political correspondent for news website Joe, and publicly humiliated her by posing the question: ‘Who’d want to shag that?’

His vile tirade came after Ms Evans spoke about men’s mental health and suicide on BBC’s Politics Live show.

Today, as the media storm surrounding the scandal intensified, Fox admitted he ‘could and should have dialled down the bar room banter’.

The right-wing actor spoke out in response to controversial US journalist Megyn Kelly who told him she supported his actions.

‘I listened to the whole segment. You were mad she so easily wrote off the epidemic of men’s suicide, which she absolutely did,’ she wrote. ‘She sounded heartless. You were making the point of how unattractive it made her to you. You didn’t use the Queen’s English but what she said was far uglier.’

Responding, Fox wrote: ‘I could and should have dialled down the bar room banter, but I have lost male friends to suicide, and her dismissal of male mental health is very upsetting to anyone who has experienced such tragedy. We live. We learn.’

Fox launched into an abusive rant against political journalist after she spoke about men’s mental health and suicide on BBC’s Politics Live show

Fox wrote: ‘I could and should have dialled down the bar room banter (he is pictured on Tuesday night’s show on GB News)

In a separate lengthy tweet about the scandal, Fox later hinted that he was expecting to be sacked by GB News. 

Attacking the broadcaster and accusing other ‘desperate presenters’ of ‘joining the pile on’, a defiant Fox hailed himself the ‘catalyst for the great takedown’ of the station. 

Fox added: ‘I still haven’t heard a word from them, and am waiting for the chop on Friday at my disciplinary hearing. Such is life. I own my mistakes and take full responsibility for them.’

But Fox’s crass remarks sparked anger across the political divide, with the broadcaster suspending him as well as Dan Wootton, the presenter of the show.

Caroline Nokes, the Commons Women and Equalities Committee chairman, said there was a ‘really serious case to answer’ and insisted GB News should be ‘taken off air’.

She also condemned a number of her Conservative colleagues for ‘swanning off’ to host shows on GB News, saying it was ‘very odd’ for MPs such as Lee Anderson and Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg to have presenting gigs while they have a ‘day job to do’.

Ms Nokes was highly critical of GB News for what she called ‘blatantly misogynistic, outdated, hideous attitudes’. On Tuesday’s show, Fox attacked Joe reporter Ms Evans by saying ‘Who would want to sh*g that?’ as he elicited laughs from Wootton.

Speaking to BBC Newsnight, Ms Nokes urged Ofcom to investigate – something the regulator today confirmed it was doing. 

Caroline Nokes, the Commons Women and Equalities Committee chair, told the BBC’s Newsnight that there is a ‘really serious case to answer’ following the Laurence Fox comments

She said: ‘I was appalled by a news channel broadcasting such blatantly misogynistic, outdated, hideous attitudes.

GB News must not be cancelled over Laurence Fox row, says host Mark Dolan 

Mark Dolan on GB News last night

GB News has learned a ‘hard lesson’ after ‘offensive’ comments were made on-air by Laurence Fox – but the channel must not be cancelled, a presenter has said.

Covering the 9pm slot on GB News yesterday evening, Mark Dolan condemned Fox’s ‘offensive comments’ about Ms Evans.

He 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.’

But he went on to warn that GB News must not be cancelled in the wake of Fox’s comments.

‘Where possible, we seek to play the ball, not the man, or in this case, the woman,’ Dolan said. ‘We don’t always achieve that. Unfortunately, this awful episode plays into the hands of our critics, the people who would love to see the back of GB News. That mustn’t happen.’

The presenter said the channel is ‘rewriting the rulebook’ on current affairs broadcasting and garnering a ‘fast growing and incredibly loyal audience’.

‘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,’ he 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.’

‘I think there is a really serious case to answer and I hope that Ofcom can conclude its investigations as swiftly as possible. I think it should be taken off air, it was entirely predictable that Laurence Fox was going to come out with a statement that was that offensive.’

But she was also critical of her colleagues who have their own lucrative gigs presenting on GB News. ‘I think it’s a very odd relationship to be quite frank and I don’t go on any of their shows,’ she said.

‘From my perspective if you’re a Member of Parliament you have a day job to do, getting on with the work you have in the House of Commons and not swanning off, and in some cases several times a week, to present a show on a television channel.’

Mr Anderson, the deputy Tory party chair, former Cabinet minister Sir Jacob are joined by Philip Davies and Esther McVey as Tory MPs presenting on GB News.

Ofcom has previously found that an interview married presenters Ms McVey and Mr Davies did with Chancellor Jeremy Hunt on GB News breached impartiality rules.

Sir Jacob’s show is also under investigation for allegedly twice breaching the ‘politicians as presenters’ rule which means ‘no politician may be used as a newsreader, interviewer or reporter in any news programmes unless, exceptionally, it is editorially justified’.

Also hitting out at GB News was former prime minister Gordon Brown, who said Fox and Wootton ‘have got to be kept off air’.

He said Ofcom should be given more ‘teeth’ – and compared the incident to when Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand prank called Andrew Sachs about Brand’s relationship with Sachs’ granddaughter Georgina Baillie on BBC Radio 2 in October 2008.

Mr Brown told the Sky News Politics Hub with Sophy Ridge: ‘Well, I criticised Russell Brand and Jonathan Ross when similar remarks were made almost 15 years ago, and it led to changes in the way programmes were done at that time.

‘But I think we’ve got to look very carefully at GB News and all these broadcast companies that are emerging, because we’ve got a far wider range of broadcasters and the system of regulation is not good enough to cope with it.

‘So Ofcom needs to have more teeth to deal with standards, issues of standards, and of course you’ve got this amazing situation now, you’ve got internet, you’ve got television, you’ve got newspapers and you have a completely different system of regulation for each of them.’

‘But everybody is influenced by all these social media at the same time, so I think you’ve got to standardise some of the regulation, and certainly you cannot allow people to appear on air and talk about women in the way that they are doing, without any propriety.

Ava Evans tweeted a picture of her drinking a pint at the Bethnal Green Tavern in East London yesterday evening with the caption: ‘Me reading your libellous tweets’

It comes after Ava Evans made comments about men’s mental health and suicide on the BBC’s Politics Live on Monday, in which she dismissed calls for a dedicated minister on the issue

‘These people have got to be kept off the air – this cannot be allowed. I’m not in favour of censorship, but you cannot have this fall in standards and allow it to continue.’

Laurence Fox: From screen actor to founder of the Reclaim Party

Actor Laurence Fox rose to fame through various acting roles and is most well-known for portraying DS James Hathaway in the long-running TV series Lewis, which came to an end in 2015.

The actor, 45, has credits in films that include the 2001 production of Gosford Park, the 2007 TV movie A Room With A View and the recent 2022 film My Son Hunter, in which he plays the lead role of Hunter, the son of American president Joe Biden.

Born into an acting dynasty, Fox is related to a slew of famous thespians, including his cousin Freddie Fox, who starred in the 2011 film The Three Musketeers and Netflix series The Crown, playing former prime minister Margaret Thatcher’s son Mark.

Laurence Fox married fellow thespian Billie Piper in 2007 and the pair split in 2016

Sister to Freddie and cousin to Laurence is Emilia Fox, known for her role as Dr Nikki Alexander in BBC TV series Silent Witness.

The trio are grandchildren to actor and theatrical agent Robin Fox whose son James is father to Laurence and has starred in Downton Abbey, Sherlock Holmes, Midsomer Murders and New Tricks, among other TV series.

Fox married fellow thespian and Doctor Who star Billie Piper in 2007 and the pair split in 2016. They have two sons together, Winston and Eugene.

In 2020, Fox appeared on BBC Question Time and was involved in a debate over Meghan Markle, white male privilege and racism which led to the actor saying he would take a break from social media.

Following his appearance, the actor founded political party the Reclaim Party in October 2020, and the website says he did so after his appearance led to him being ‘cancelled’ from his acting career.

After he set up the Reclaim Party, Fox unsuccessfully stood for London mayor during the mayoral election of 2021.

Fox appeared on BBC Question Time in 2020 and was in a debate over Meghan Markle, white male privilege and racism

His manifesto included promises to deliver ‘free travel on the Tubes and buses for six months’ and ‘tough New York style community policing to target petty crime’.

According to the Reclaim Party website, the party exists ‘for patriotism and believes hard work should be rewarded.’

Reclaim is strongly associated with the ‘culture wars’ and Fox has previously expressed scepticism about the Covid vaccine and opposed lockdowns during the pandemic.

Fox has been a presenter on GB News and according to the broadcaster’s website he ‘tackles the issues of the day’ with a ‘unique and outgoing style’.

Technology Secretary Michelle Donelan said Ofcom had to take its response to the ‘next stage’, and said both Fox and Wootton behaved in an ‘unacceptable and disgraceful way’ as she called on the regulator to act.

‘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,’ she told the Sky News Politics Hub. ‘It was completely unacceptable.

‘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 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’.

Ms Evans said she had received an apology from the broadcaster, but her direct messages on social media have been full of threats since the row.

Wootton has apologised ‘unreservedly’ for a ‘very unfortunate lapse in judgment’ in a follow-up post to an earlier apology, which suggested he should have apologised for what was said during the broadcast.

Ms Evans was interviewed about the incident on ITV’s Good Morning Britain today, and also spoke about other Tory MPs appearing on GB News.

She said: ‘I think what’s important is a lot of presenters and producers at the channel spoke publicly yesterday about how they don’t align themselves with those views,’ she said.

‘But I didn’t hear that from any elected members of parliament that sit on that channel.

‘So if you’re not going to say anything, and you’re going to continue broadcasting on it, it’s almost as if you’ve accepted it, or you’re claiming to align with those views.

‘You’re saying that it’s perfectly reasonable for someone to profess what Laurence Fox did that night.’

Culture Secretary Lucy Frazer branded Fox’s comments ‘inappropriate and unacceptable’ while Tory backbencher Mr Davies, who co-presents a show on the channel, said the ‘disgraceful’ remarks were ‘completely unacceptable, unjustifiable and indefensible’.

Labour shadow culture secretary Thangam Debbonaire wrote on X, formerly Twitter: ‘Last night’s woman hating on air has hit a new low. Should we (women) have to tell a broadcaster that on-air woman-hate is not OK?’

And fellow Labour frontbencher Matthew Pennycook said: ‘Ofcom must act to end this kind of odious behaviour whenever and wherever it takes place.’

Labour MP Jess Phillips said on X: ‘Ofcom must act, an act of bullying and hate. Regulators have got to actually try to stop this, but in my experience women are just expected to tolerate it with a shrug. The electoral commission, ofcom and others can no longer turn a blind eye.’

And Labour MP Dawn Butler added: ‘@Ofcom it was a premeditated misogynistic attack on @AvaSantina.

‘This isn’t a new tactic, but we don’t always have the evidence. There’s no excuse not to act on this toxic, racist, misogynistic channel which isn’t a news channel.’

Labour MP Ellie Reeves was asked on Times Radio today whether she would appear on GB News – and she said that while she has done so in the past, in future she would ‘have to see how [this issue] is dealt with’.

Scotland’s First Minister Humza Yousaf branded Fox a ‘vile neanderthal’.

Today a spokesperson for dmg media said: ‘Following events this week, dmg media can confirm that Dan Wootton’s freelance column with MailOnline – which had already been paused – has now been terminated, along with his contract.’

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