World

U.K. Regulator Investigates News Channel After Sexist Rant

Ofcom, Britain’s broadcasting regulator, opened a formal investigation on Thursday into a television news pundit’s tirade against a female journalist after receiving more than 7,000 complaints about his comments on GB News, a right-leaning network.

Laurence Fox, an actor turned right-wing commentator, made a series of demeaning and misogynistic comments about the journalist, Ava Evans, while being interviewed live on Tuesday night by a fellow GB News host, Dan Wootton.

The remarks provoked outrage from lawmakers across the political spectrum and on Wednesday, the broadcaster said on social media that it both men had been suspended. “We are conducting a full investigation,” GB News wrote on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter.

Ms. Evans, a political correspondent for an online news site, Joe, shared a clip of the segment on the X platform after it aired, writing, “I feel physically sick.”

The diatribe by Mr. Fox, who also hosts a weekly show on the channel, came as he criticized Ms. Evans after she expressed skepticism during a recent television appearance about the idea of appointing a government minister for men’s affairs, working on issues such as male mental health. She later called her statements “a little rash.”

“Show me a single self-respecting man that would like to climb into bed with that woman, ever,” Mr. Fox said, while Mr. Wootton chuckled and grinned. Mr. Fox later added that Ms. Evans was “pathetic and embarrassing,” before again rhetorically asking who would want to sleep with her, using crude language.

Mr. Wootton added what he called a “touch of balance,” first noting that Ms. Evans had said she regretted her remarks. “And she’s a very beautiful woman, Laurence, very beautiful,” he said.

The controversy has cast a spotlight on GB News, an upstart network which has sought to position itself as a dynamic right-wing alternative to Britain’s mainstream broadcasters. Nigel Farage, a prominent Brexit campaigner, hosts a show on the channel, as does Jacob Rees-Mogg, a Conservative lawmaker.

That stance is proving a test of Britain’s broadcasting regulations, which call for “due impartiality,” a mandate networks have long interpreted by seeking to remain politically neutral.

In its two years on air, GB News has already been subject to multiple investigations by Ofcom over its coverage, and has been found in breach of broadcasting rules three times.

Investigators will examine whether Tuesday’s program violated British regulations on potentially offensive content, Ofcom said. The country’s broadcast code stipulates that channels should handle content that deals with “humiliation, distress, violation of human dignity, discriminatory treatment or language” with particular sensitivity.

Leading politicians condemned the conversation as an example of unfettered misogyny in the media. Caroline Nokes, a Conservative lawmaker, suggested the channel “should be taken off air.”

“Here you have two men belittling, demeaning, seeking to humiliate a female journalist — one of them making a truly offensive comment and the other laughing about it,” said Ms. Nokes, who is chair of the Women and Equalities Committee in Britain’s House of Commons.

On Wednesday, Mr. Wootton sought to tamp down the spiraling controversy, saying he ought to have intervened to challenge Mr. Fox’s “offensive and misogynistic remarks.” He said he had been taken aback and had failed to respond in time.

Mr. Wootton at an event in London in 2019.Credit…Tim P. Whitby/Getty Images

“I apologize unreservedly for what was a very unfortunate lapse in judgment on my part,” Mr. Wootton wrote on social media, adding: “I was in no way amused by the comments.”

But Mr. Fox subsequently published a screenshot of a text conversation that purported to show the two men talking amicably about his comments after the show. “Making you giggle is my weekly joy,” Mr. Fox wrote, to which Mr. Wootton apparently responded with a series of cry-laugh emojis.

On Thursday, MailOnline — a digital sister publication of The Daily Mail, a British tabloid — said it had terminated a contract with Mr. Wootton, who had written a column for the site and was a senior journalist at other tabloids before joining GB News.

Unlike Mr. Wootton, Mr. Fox, who appeared in the 2001 film “Gosford Park” and has embraced a career as an online provocateur in recent years, staunchly defended his conduct on air, accusing his detractors of engaging in a “half baked pile on.”

“If you are expecting a groveling apology, I suggest you don’t hold your breath. I won’t ever apologize to the mob,” Mr. Fox wrote on the X platform.

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