‘Absurd parody’: Guto Harri speaks out after being dropped by GB News for taking the knee live on air

·3-min read
Guto Harri took the knee in support of England’s football players who have been racially abused (GB News)
Guto Harri took the knee in support of England’s football players who have been racially abused (GB News)

A GB News presenter who took the knee against racism on air has hit out against a decision to suspend him, saying the newly launched channel is “becoming an absurd parody of what it proclaims to be”.

Guto Harri criticised his employer for claiming “to believe in free speech” and then punishing him for expressing his views.

The former BBC correspondent said that he had not believed in such gestures like taking the knee, but seeing England footballers being racially abused after the team’s defeat in the Euro 2020 final had led him to have a change of heart.

Marcus Rashford, Bukayo Saka and Jadon Sancho had been targeted after they missed penalties in the final against Italy.

All three players received racist abuse on social media after the game and five people have since been arrested.

Mr Harri, who was an advisor to Boris Johnson when he was mayor of London, made the kneeling gesture on Tuesday’s show, two days after the match at Wembley Stadium.

He wrote in The Sunday Times: “Immediately before going on air, I mentioned that I was considering making the gesture.

“‘If you do it, do it to camera three,’ I was told. GB News captured the moment and proudly cascaded it through social media. Watch five minutes of the channel and you’ll see how presenters are encouraged to speak freely, confront sensitive subjects, engage in difficult debates and make a case.

“However, what followed was a tsunami of disappointment, resentment and hate. Old friends were amused to see me described as woke and Marxist. By Thursday night, the boss called and I’d been taken off air for the summer.

“I joined, part-time but with an ongoing commitment, because I liked and trusted those in charge and supported the broad vision. But the channel is rapidly becoming an absurd parody of what it proclaimed to be. Rather than defending free speech and confronting cancel culture, it has set out to replicate it on the far right.”

Manchester mural in support of Bukayo Saka, Marcus Rashford, and Jadon Sancho (Getty Images)
Manchester mural in support of Bukayo Saka, Marcus Rashford, and Jadon Sancho (Getty Images)

In a statement, GB News said it was “unacceptable” for any presenter on its shows to take the knee, a symbol associated with the Black Lives Matter movement, and said Mr Harri had broken the channel’s editorial code.

GB News’ editorial charter says the channel commits itself to values including “independence of our journalism”, “respect for opinions and those expressing them”, and “the right of every individual to form and share their views”.

The channel had also said: “[We] stand 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.”

It then added: “We let both sides of the argument down by oversimplifying a very complex issue.”

The channel has had problems since launching in June and viewers have appeared to have boycotted the channel in protest against Mr Harri taking the knee. The day after his gesture, the channel attracted no measurable audience between 1pm and 1.30pm.

GB News has now drafted in former Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage for a new primetime show in a bid to attract viewers.

There were reports on Friday that GB News’ director of programming, John McAndrew, had stepped down. Sources cited by The Guardian said he quit after coming under pressure to divert efforts from local reporting to “culture war” topics.

It has also been reported that some senior production staff have left following the channel’s launch, which was affected by a series of technical difficulties.

GB News chairman and presenter Andrew Neil, who is currently on leave, later defended the channel's tumultuous start.

“Start ups are fraught and fractious,” the former BBC presenter tweeted. “@GBNEWS is no exception. But the news channel is finding its feet and has a great future. Watch this space.”

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