A government rebuke for ITV news editor after 'conversion therapy' story

REUTERS/Marko Djurica

The Government Equalities Office has rebuked and corrected Paul Brand, the UK editor of ITV News, for claiming that Kemi Badenoch has delayed the ban on 'conversion therapy'.

This is the first time the UK government – and indeed, as far as I'm aware, any government in the world – has rebuked a journalist who is campaigning for a 'conversion therapy' ban.

This is a significant move that suggests the public debate around this topic is going to get more fraught.

Pitting Kemi Badenoch against Nadhim Zahawi

On Monday, Paul Brand wrote this in an article:

"New equalities minister Kemi Badenoch has paused work to ban conversion therapy since taking over the role last week, ITV News understands.

On her return to the equalities department, where she previously worked as a junior minister, she asked to review the current plans."

He also tweeted this as an 'exclusive' story. Key to the story is the claim that the previous Minister for Equalities, Nadhim Zahawi, would introduce a ban bill at pre-legislative stage in Parliament.

"ITV News understands that Ms Badenoch's predecessor in the role, Nadhim Zahawi, had agreed that a Joint Committee of MPs and Lords would scrutinise a bill next year to finally introduce a ban.

The idea was to expedite the legislation during the fourth session of parliament, due to begin in the spring. However, those plans are now on hold until the new equalities minister has agreed to them." This pits Kemi Badenoch against her predecessor. It isn't difficult to see why.

The Government Equalities Office rebukes Paul Brand

In an unprecedented move, the Government Equalities Office retweeted the ITV News article in order to correct it:

"This reporting is untrue. No policy decisions or requests were made as we waited for the new ministerial team to be announced, which only concluded at the weekend. When decisions are made, they will be announced on http://gov.uk."

For a government department's official Twitter account to say that 'this reporting is untrue' is very strong language and amounts to a rebuke to the journalist in question. Remember, this is the head of ITV News that is under consideration here, not some random freelancer.

ITV News report is not impartial journalism

The problems don't stop there. It is very clear upon reading that the ITV News article is completely one-sided. The only person interviewed for a comment is Jayne Ozanne, who is one of the best-known campaigners for a full criminal ban.

No critics or opponents of a ban are interviewed. Clearly this is not impartial journalism, it is blatant political campaigning on a very contentious topic. This is unsurprising for someone who was awarded the Pink News Broadcaster of the Year Award in 2019 for his undercover reporting on 'conversion therapy'.

Leaks already showed government sees Brand as campaigner

This is not in fact the first time that the government has hinted that it perceives Paul Brand to be a campaigner, not an impartial journalist. In March this year, a document outlining how the government intended to drop its plans to ban 'conversion therapy' was leaked to ITV News. It was reported on by none other than Paul Brand.

The ITV leak had a section on 'Media handling' of the decision, and said this:

"Paul Brand of ITV has followed the commitment's progress closely for years, he is personally very invested, and is likely to cover the decision in great depth."

This much was made clear in April when Paul Brand replied to a critic of his coverage of the leak, speaking of 'how the government sees our community'. This is really quite an extraordinary thing for a senior news editor to say in public. Remember, he isn't an 'LGBT news editor', he is the editor of ITV News – on all kinds of news – for the UK as a whole.

Playing Liz Truss off against Kemi Badenoch

Already, one year previously in March 2021, Brand had reported on a media campaign by LGBT groups from the main political parties to attack Kemi Badenoch's careful handling of the proposals to ban 'conversion therapy'. These political campaigners wanted to meet with Liz Truss, to get past Kemi Badenoch's reluctance to pass a ban.

Evidently this was an attempt to play Liz Truss and Kemi Badenoch off against each other to corner Liz Truss into tabling a bill. For in reality in this ITV News interview conducted by Brand back in 2020, Liz Truss comes across as robotically following a script, having been put on the spot by him.

Pressuring the Prime Minister

The ITV News article goes on to say this:

"ITV News understands that Conservative MPs have been engaging with Downing Street over the issue, in the hope that new prime minister Rishi Sunak will make a clear commitment."

It is true that Rishi Sunak has been silent on the whole issue of 'conversion therapy'. However he has more recently hinted at curbing the excesses of transgender ideology in public policy. Brand didn't bother interviewing any MPs opposed to a ban, full or partial. So once again, this 'hope' that Sunak will 'make a clear commitment' appears to be Brand's wish as well as that of these unnamed MPs.

Government yet to publish consultation response

The government has yet to release the results of its own consultation on the ban for England and Wales. This went unsaid by Brand, which is a major oversight. The contract for the company working on the responses ran out in September, which means the results are due any time now. It would be improper for a government minister to adopt a formal policy position before having seen the consultation responses. Hence why it makes no sense to report on speculations about how Kemi Badenoch supposedly differs from her predecessor in this respect.

The truth is that we don't really know what the government is going to do. There is a long history of governments changing their minds about whether or not to legislate for the past decade. It is highly significant that the government has signalled it is fed-up with the most high-profile journalist currently covering the topic.

It is also significant that no other press outlet has picked up on the story to run a rival exposé. This fact won't have been lost on Kemi Badenoch. It confirms the complaint made in the ITV leaks that there are no 'neutral' or impartial voices on this issue.

This is only going to make media reportage of the government's response to the consultation more fraught with difficulties.

Dr Carys Moseley is a policy researcher for Christian Concern.