GB News’ director of programming has quit after the channel’s presenter Guto Harri was suspended by bosses for taking the knee live on television in a move that angered many of the new station’s viewers.
Mr Harri took the knee on Tuesday in solidarity with black England football stars after they suffered racist abuse in the aftermath of the team’s defeat on penalties in the Euro 2020 final.
But it offended some viewers amid criticism that anyone who takes a knee – including police officers, sports stars and TV presenters – risks being seen to endorse some of the Left-wing ideas promoted by the Black Lives Matter organisation, as well as opposing racism.
Mr Harri’s gesture sparked a viewer boycott with several GB News shows attracting zero viewers in the wake of the segment. He was suspended by the channel and replaced on air today after GB News bosses sent out a tweet condemning him for taking the knee.
Now senior executive John McAndrew, who previously insisted the channel would be a ‘place for everyone’, is reported to have resigned from GB News after clashing with bosses on its direction.
Mr McAndrew was thought to be the channel’s second-in-command and reportedly played a key role in convincing some of the more mainstream presenters to join GB News. His resignation could also now lead to more senior staff quitting amid the row over Mr Harri taking the knee.
On his show, ex-BBC political correspondent Mr Harri and his co-host Mercy Muroki spoke about the vile abuse Three Lions stars Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka had received online, during which Mr Harri admitted he now ‘gets’ why footballers take the knee before each game.
Mr Harri then proceeded to take the knee himself on air, sparking the boycott and a public telling-off by bosses. In a statement, the channel said it was ‘unacceptable’ for any presenter to take the knee and accused Mr Harri of breaking its Editorial Charter.
A GB News spokesman was unable to confirm whether Mr Harri would be leaving the channel or whether other key staff had resigned. MailOnline has approached the channel and Mr Harri for comment.
Friends of Mr Harri hit back at the channel, telling the Guardian: ‘It’s ridiculous to say he’s breached editorial standards and almost certainly defamatory. In reality it wasn’t a breach of editorial code but ‘sacked for offending the lynch mob’.’
Chairman Andrew Neil has been so far silent over the controversy after he told viewers that he was taking leave – just two weeks after the channel was launched after what he called a ‘rocky start’. The former Sunday Times editor is understood to have gone on holiday to his main residence in the south of France but there is no public return date for his flagship show.
A GB News presenter has been condemned by bosses for an ‘unacceptable breach of standards’ after he took the knee live on TV in protest at the racist abuse aimed at black England football stars following the Three Lions’ Euros defeat to Italy
Guto Harri and his GB News co-host Mercy Muroki spoke about the vile abuse during Tuesday’s show, during which Mr Harri admitted he ‘gets’ why footballers take the knee – an anti-racist gesture inspired by last year’s Black Lives Matter protests – before each game
Amid a Twitter backlash from social media users baffled by Mr Harri’s gesture on the ‘anti-woke’ channel, GB News publicly rebuked its presenter. It said on its official Twitter account: ‘GB News stands four square against racism in all its forms. We do not have a company line on taking the knee’
Guto Harri: Ex-BBC correspondent and Remainer suspended for taking the knee on GB News
Presenter Guto Harri made headlines this week after taking the knee on GB News – to the fury of many of the channel’s viewers.
It is the latest political statement from Harri, who in 2016 penned an article vehemently protesting against Brexit and arguing that a Remain vote was vital for Wales. He wrote that the ‘dream of Brexit is a wild fantasy’ ahead of the referendum.
Harri also previously wrote in a Cardiff University journalism blog where he revealed that he wanted to escape the ‘straitjacket of impartiality’ which was ‘entirely appropriate for broadcasters but there’s a time when some of us want to take sides’.
Born in Cardiff, Harri studied Policy, Politics and Economics at Oxford, before studying a masters in Broadcast Journalism at Cardiff University.
His education prompted an 18-year career at the BBC, where he started in Welsh-language radio.
He then fronted Welsh election programmes for the broadcaster before becoming a regular on several mainstream politics shows.
Harri covered the collapse of Communism in Romania, Czechoslovakia and East Germany before reporting on the Gulf War from Saudi Arabia, Jordan and northern Iraq. In November 2002, he became the BBC’s Chief Political Correspondent.
After leaving the BBC in 2007, he turned down a job with David Cameron, instead joining a PR agency and serving as advisor to Zimbabwe opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai for four weeks.
In May 2008, he was appointed Communications Director for Boris Johnson during his time as Mayor of London.
He joined Rupert Murdoch’s News UK in May 2012 as Director of Communications and Corporate Affairs and was seen as being responsible for helping to reband the organisation in the wake of the phone-hacking scandal.
Harri has also held roles with Virgin Media owner Liberty Global, London PR firm Hanover Communications, for GQ Magazine and for Hydro Industries Limited.
Since June 2018 he has presented the S4C current affairs television programme, Y Byd yn ei Le.
Mr Harri had told viewers on Tuesday: ‘I’ll tell you where I am. I’ve never understood why people would find it offensive. I can see and I tended to be one of those people that thought do we really have to do this at every football match, can’t we just enjoy whatever sport we’re in too?
‘But having seen over the past few days just how close to the surface, just how deep-rooted, just how hideously ugly racism among some England fans is, I totally get why this squad throughout thought we have to say, day in, day out, that racism is not on.
‘And I actually with the benefit of hindsight, I may have underestimated how close to the surface the racism still is, I actually get it.’
GB News said on Twitter: ‘GB News stands four square against racism in all its forms. We do not have a company line on taking the knee. Some of our guests have been in favour, some against. All are anti-racist. We have editorial standards that all GB News journalists uphold.
‘On Tuesday a contributing presenter took the knee live on air and this was an unacceptable breach of our standards. We let both sides of the argument down by oversimplifying a very complex issue.’
Defending his actions last night, Mr Harri said: ‘GB News is – above all – about free speech; having the debates others won’t.
‘English footballers have made it clear that when they take the knee they are making a clear statement about rejecting racism (not endorsing the narrow divisive aims of BLM). I support them.’
Cardiff-born Mr Harri, 55, is a former BBC political correspondent and Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s spin doctor while he was Mayor of London. At the BBC, Mr Harri’s reporting career spanned Westminster, New York and Rome covering politics and business.
Scottish presenter Neil Oliver supported his colleague’s decision to take the knee, tweeting: ‘My @GBNEWS teammate @Guto_Harri is right to say and do as he sees fit. I do the same. That’s the ethos of the channel. Free speech. We don’t all agree with each other – that’s the point, or else where’s the debate?’
Twitter users also slammed GB News, with comic Danny Wallace sarcastically writing: ‘Anti-racism gestures made in solidarity with an abused English national football team are an unacceptable breach of GB News standards, got it.’
A second social media user tweeted: ‘People will be surprised to know you have standards,’ while a third person wrote: ‘someone taking a stand against racism is an ‘unacceptable breach of your standards’? Sounds like a delightful place to work for.’
A fourth questioned: ‘What about free speech? I thought you were all about that?’
It is not clear if Mr Harri flouted GB News’ Editorial Charter, which says the channel defends the ‘right of every individual to form and share their views’ and brings ‘clarity to complex and contentious issues’.
The Charter states: ‘We will find out what is happening, present facts in a clear and honest way and ensure our coverage is well-sourced, facts are checked and all data used is robust and accurate.
‘If we get it wrong, we will say so – and explain what happened. We will present our programmes in a manner that respects individuals and leads to a better informed community and nation. We value freedom of expression but not by causing unjustifiable offence or exposing our audience to harm, particularly in regards to our vulnerable viewers.
‘We do not shy away from controversial issues. We will take a frank and honest look at the world, but we are sensitive to complex subjects and protect privacy unless compelling public interest outweighs this expectation.’
It follows reports that social media companies have handed over personal details of those accused of sharing racist posts online after England’s Euro 2020 final penalty shootout.
Harri defended his actions last night, writing on Twitter: ‘GB News is – above all – about free speech’
Harry Kane and Declan Rice take a knee during the Three Lions’ Euros match against Austria last month
Twitter and Facebook have been ‘working very closely’ with investigating police officers, who say they are digging into dozens of people’s racist tweets after five people were arrested in the wake of Sunday’s final.
The tech giants will provide names, emails and IP addresses of users who are believed to have sent discriminatory messages if requested by the authorities, the Times reports.
The UK Football Policing Unit yesterday provided an update on its investigation following abusive posts targeting Rashford, Sancho and Saka in the wake of the Three Lions’ defeat on penalties to Italy.
Three of the suspects have already been publicly identified – plasterer Brad Pretty, 49, from Folkestone, Kent; estate agent Andrew Bone, 37, from Sale, Cheshire; and children’s football coach Nick Scott, 50, from Powick, Worcestershire.
A fourth suspect, a 37-year-old man from Ashton-upon-Mersey in Greater Manchester, was then arrested yesterday, officials said, before a fifth, a 42-year-old man from Runcorn was then detained by police in Cheshire.
Twitter said it had removed more than 1,000 posts in the 24 hours during and after the match, and suspended a number of accounts for violating its rules. Facebook said it too had quickly removed abusive comments on its platform and Instagram.
Data from analytics company Crisp, which works with top-flight football clubs, found England players faced 12,500 hate messages on social media during Euro 2020, including banana and monkey emojis.
The abuse from 10,000 accounts was aimed directly at players, through Twitter and Instagram, and includes comments about race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, as well as extreme personal abuse and threats of harm, including to family members.
The number of abusive accounts equates to 3 per cent of all users posting to the players’ accounts during the tournament.
Adam Mosseri, Instagram’s chief executive, told the Times that mistakes in the company’s detection software had allowed abusive posts to slip through, but that these had now been fixed.
He explained: ‘It is absolutely not OK to send racist emojis, or any kind of hate speech, on Instagram’.
A UKFPU statement read: ‘Following England’s defeat against Italy on Sunday a torrent of racist comments aimed at some of the team’s black players appeared on platforms including Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
‘A hate crime investigation is under way by the UKFPU, with a dedicated team of investigators working their way through a large number of reports from across the country. So far, dozens of data applications have been submitted to social media companies and four people have been arrested by local police forces.’