Emily Carver is a writer and broadcaster.
Perhaps it is an inbuilt feature of devolution that the devolved nations feel it necessary to diverge from the UK government, even when there is little or no reason to do so.
Take the dark days of the pandemic when the Welsh introduced a 17-day “firebreak” lockdown when shops were forced to cordon off products deemed “non-essential”. Such items included books, toys, and even female sanitary products in some cases.
More recently, we’ve seen Wales introduce a default 20 mph speed limit, which again amounts to a widespread ban, this time on driving at normal speeds.
Yesterday we found out that the Labour-led Welsh parliament – which has just used its devolved powers to introduce a rat trap ban – has decided to take its authoritarian disposition to new heights: this time by banning GB News from its internal TVs in the Senedd.
Now, this may seem a relatively minor issue to some. Who cares what television channels are available in the Welsh Senedd’s internal system? But culturally, it is significant.
As history tells us, left-wing authoritarians often have a taste for censorship. But such attempts to restrict the media rarely end well, nor are they consistent.
The explanation for removing GB News internally is intended to sound reasonable. According to an official spokesperson for Elin Jones, the Presiding Officer, GB News has been removed because of “a recent broadcast that was deliberately offensive, demeaning to public debate, and contrary to our parliament’s values”.
This explanation is troubling for a number of reasons. First, where’s the consistency?
I wonder whether the Welsh Senedd would ban the BBC because the broadcaster fails to accurately describe terrorists as terrorists? Many find that editorial decision with regards to Hamas both offensive and repugnant.
Or perhaps they would ban the BBC from the Welsh parliament on the grounds that an official reporter on the Gaza-Israel conflict appeared to immediately jump to conclusions when it came to Israel’s culpability for Tuesday’s deadly blast of a Gaza hospital?
Again, surely that would be deemed “demeaning to public debate”, and dangerously so.
Or perhaps the BBC and Channel 4 should be taken off the Senedd’s internal television system for platforming Russel Brand, who has now been accused of numerous accounts of sexual assault and harassment, including inappropriate behaviour on set?
We know the Welsh Sennedd would never suggest such a thing. Therefore, it’s hard not to conclude that this decision is entirely politically motivated.
Of course, to disapprove of a particular broadcast on a particular channel and make a point of it is one thing; to demand the entire channel is unfit for a place of democracy is quite another.
As Welsh Conservative leader Andrew RT Davies “People should be free to choose if they want to watch GB News. It’s not for the Senedd to decide.” It really should be as simple as that.
What’s interesting in these situations is to look at who the cheerleaders for these decisions are. In this case, readers may find it noteworthy that one of the politicians calling for the ban – and subsequently celebrating the ban – is Jenny Rathbone.
The same Jenny Rathbone who found herself suspended from the Labour assembly group after being embroiled in an antisemitism row as recently as 2019.
I wonder whether Ms Rathbone is the right person to be commenting on “the toxic GB News”, a woman who was formally sanctioned and asked to attend anti-Semitism training.
Could it be that Ms Rathbone is aggrieved that GB News’ Welsh viewership is growing thanks to its reporting of issues that other broadcasters largely ignore, including the issue of migrant hotels and the impact on local communities?
Let’s be frank. What we’re seeing here is little more than a brazen attempt at censorship, a desire to virtue signal, and a clear demonstration of the disdain some of our politicians have towards large swathes of the population.
It was only a couple of weeks ago that we saw BBC Newsnight host a panel with three voices in violent agreement that GB News should be taken off air, following the suspension of two presenters from the channel. Astonishingly, there was no dissenting voice, as subsequently admitted by the BBC itself.
What was revealing from the discussion though was what Sky veteran Adam Boulton had to say. He argued that GB News should be shut down for disrupting the British “broadcast ecology”.
Well, I’m not sorry to say but that’s the point of GB News. It’s not here to be the same as every other channel. It’s here to allow for real debate. To present a diversity of opinion so people can make their own minds up. That’s why I’m proud to present on the channel.
I can’t help but wonder whether the clamour to ban from some quarters is based on nothing more than the desire for self-preservation and a sense of insecurity.