“A CHILLING development for all broadcasters, for freedom of speech, and for everyone in the United Kingdom” was the typically measured response of GB News to being rapped on the knuckles by Ofcom yesterday.

It was found in breach of the broadcasting code for having politicians act as news reporters five times last summer.

It’s a little ironic that the content for which GB News has been censured is not the apoplectic frothing or outrageous diatribes for which it has become notorious, but instead relatively bland news coverage that was woven into programmes hosted by Conservative politicians Jacob Rees-Mogg, Esther McVey and Philip Davies.

GB News had little choice here but to come out all guns blazing, insisting that Ofcom had arbitrarily changed its rules in order to gag a fearless upstart broadcaster. The alternative was to accept the scolding, promise not to do it again and at least tacitly acknowledge that its operation is ramshackle and low-budget, incapable of responding to breaking news without breaking rules.

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The fact that there has only been one further incident of the same nature since the latest Ofcom investigations began suggests that despite their public fulminating, behind the scenes they have conceded they messed up.

Rees-Mogg is many things, but a newsreader he is not. Yet that’s what he was required to be when news about the outcome of a civil trial against Donald Trump broke midway through an episode of his current affairs show, Jacob Rees-Mogg’s State of the Nation. Instead of cutting away to a separate studio containing an actual reporter, the plucky presenter was required to relay the verdict himself.

He addressed the audience directly, complete with dramatic pause before the words “not guilty”, while “TRUMP VERDICT” appeared on the screen.

This, Ofcom has ruled, amounted to the politician acting as a newsreader, something that is expressly prohibited by section 5.3 of the Broadcasting Code. The next month Rees-Mogg branched out into news interviewing, something else politicians are not allowed to do.

The National:

GB News brazenly attempted to argue that section 5.3 did not apply to Rees-Mogg’s show, or indeed to Friday (or Saturday) Morning with Esther and Phil, because these are current affairs shows, not the “news programmes” referred to in the code.

They might have contained “news-like elements” such as a presenter reading news to the camera, or interviewing someone involved at the scene of a news story as it was developing, but as they were current affairs programmes – not news ones – it didn’t matter what the Tory MPs presenting them got up to.

Ofcom was having none of that, pointing out that a current affairs show featuring “news-like elements” becomes a news and current affairs show, therefore section 5.3 applies.

The next argument from GB News was that even if its politician presenters were moonlighting as newshounds, they didn’t say anything very controversial anyway. Ofcom pointed out that Esther McVey concluded a news interview with London Mayoral candidate and anti-ULEZ campaigner Howard Cox by saying: “He’s definitely starting the fightback for the motorist.”

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GB News has now resorted to grumbling that it took Ofcom ages to deliver its findings, perhaps to imply the reasoning was so convoluted it took months to cook up. They believe the rules should not apply to their output, laughingly suggesting that blocking MPs from play-acting as news journalists threatens the channel’s ability to ensure “alternative voices are heard”.

Let’s face it, most potential GB News subscribers will not care to scrutinise the Broadcasting Code or look into the detail of the latest rule breaches. They will be quite happy to believe that far-right voices are being silenced by an over-reaching regulator for political reasons.

“DON’T LET THEM SILENCE US – SUPPORT GB NEWS HERE” appears on the broadcaster’s website underneath its story about “hitting back” at Ofcom.

Since it faces no sanction for the five breaches – merely being told it has been “put on notice” – it has essentially just received some free publicity and may also score some bonus subscription revenue from people who wrongly believe their contributions are needed to keep the lights on in the studios and keep paying the likes of Rees-Mogg, McVey and Davies to generate hot air, read news bulletins, forecast the weather or whatever else may be asked of them.

What you won’t hear from GB News is that they were actually let off with another breach – where not only did Rees-Mogg provide a breaking news report but the production team also failed to identify him as a Tory MP beforehand. In “exceptional circumstances” straight out of a sitcom, he broadcast from a Portakabin after his studio was evacuated shortly before he was due to go on air. As he was a witness to the security threat under discussion, Ofcom felt his pivot to roving reporter was justified.

Rees-Mogg simply will not be contained. I’m willing to bet he’s got a double-breasted flak jacket and a radio mic under his desk, so he can keep calm and keep droning on regardless of what exceptional events might unfold next.