ANDREW Neil was first to speak on the new channel. “We are not a rolling news channel, nor will we be providing conventional news bulletins,” he intoned. So what was GB News to be?

“News programmes … that are appointments to view” he explained. And “with passionate presenters”. The entire channel would be “proud to be British. The clue’s in the name.”

Alas things went wrong very quickly. Microphones didn’t work. Presenters were left to glow red in the dark. Even the Daily Star said the channel was “unwatchable”. And what of the passionate presenters and appointment-to-view guests? It soon became clear that many were the same angry faces we all recognised as pro-Brexit, anti-immigrant rent-a-gobs from other channels.

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But there was a difference. On GB News, there was no presenter with the job (whether successful or not) of challenging false claims and imposing an element of balance. On GB News, extreme views and puce-faced monologues were to go uninterrupted.

I didn’t see how the channel could last. The technical and production disasters seemed to get worse not better. And an embarrassed Andrew Neil walked out, having had to seek sanctuary in his EU holiday home for a few months to recover from several on-air ordeals. “Carrying on would have killed me” he revealed.

But it was the content and presenters rather than any technical ineptitude which I thought would kill off the channel. We have strict rules around broadcasting in the UK – rules policed by Ofcom, the independent regulator. I assumed Ofcom would step in and force the channel to balance its radical right-wing schtick with some journalism, after which it would teeter and fall, the game over for its Fox News-style toxicity.

And yet, here we are two years on, and the poison keeps spewing. And GB News has now been joined by a mini-me channel – Talk TV.

The National:

On March 11, GB News had two Tory MPs – Esther McVey and her husband Phil Davies – interviewing the Tory Chancellor about the Tory Budget, all agreeing how good it was. The interview was trailed by HM Treasury on its social media pages.

This was a flagrant breach of Ofcom’s rules which are clear and say: “No politician may be used as a newsreader, interviewer or reporter in news programmes, unless justified editorially.”

And this was hardly the first offence. Jacob Rees-Mogg is seldom off the air, delivering long dull monologues in his dusty pre-war timbre. Lee Anderson, the bovver boy depute chairman of the Conservative Party and a refugee from the Labour Party right, has announced that he will be head-butting the GB News studio cameras soon.

I sit on the Commons Culture Select Committee at Westminster. That’s where MPs question and scrutinise important media witnesses. By happy chance, just after the Chancellor’s Tory love-in on GB News with MPs Esther and Phil, Ofcom’s high heid yin Melanie Dawes was in for one of her periodic scrutiny sessions to discuss “Disinformation in the Media”.

Perfect! I assumed Melanie D might want to seize the opportunity to show MPs that as the regulator she’d tolerate no more Fox News nonsense, and would soon be stamping down on Tory MPs interviewing a Tory Chancellor about a Tory Budget on a news show on a news channel. But instead, I found myself in the rather odd position of having to explain the Ofcom rules to the Ofcom boss.

Dame Melanie conceded that there are “strict rules about serving politicians not being able to present news programmes”. So she’d call a halt to Esther and Phil and gang? Well… “they are able to present shows, to invite on whoever they like, though of course due impartiality is going to be needed.” Due impartiality like the pairing of two Tory MPs with the Tory Chancellor? Oh and did I mention the show also included interview commentary by Patrick O’Flynn, a one-time elected member for UKIP?

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Melanie Dawes left our Committee promising to look into the interview and get back to us. But I can’t say I’m hopeful. My Ofcom spies – it’s an unhappy place of work and leaks like a sieve – tell me Ofcom bosses have already decided to give the Esther & Phil Show a clean bill of health.

If so, that’s deeply worrying for all of us who want to see flourishing news and current affairs journalism free from political bias. The media landscape in the UK is already owned by a small enough clique of right-wing moguls. It’s never been more important for the regulator to stand up for media freedom. But increasingly it looks as if Ofcom isn’t up to the task.

And a footnote. Dame Melanie’s get out clause to explain Ofcom inaction was, I understand, to have been that the Esther and Phil Show is “current affairs” not “news”. But last week the sleuths at Private Eye followed up on my grilling of the Ofcom boss. Members of Parliament must declare significant sources of non-parliamentary income on the Members’ House of Commons “register of interests”. So what did Esther and Phil say they’ve been doing at GB News? Well helpfully they revealed that they earn a healthy wage from GB News for – wait for it – “presenting … a news programme.”

As Andrew Neil might say, the clue is in the name. Ofcom – over to you.