A parliamentary committee chair is facing criticism after she wrote to social media platforms and GB News over their defence of the monetisation of Russell Brand, who was accused of rape but hasn't been charged with any crime.
Mr. Brand, 48, a prominent comedian, actor, TV presenter, and political commentator, who has over 6.6 million subscribers to his main YouTube channel, was demonetised by the video platform following the allegations, which he denied. It was estimated that he could have been earning around £1 million ($1.24 million) a year on YouTube.
Dame Caroline Dinenage, the Conservative chairwoman of the Culture, Media, and Sport Committee, has written to social media platforms asking whether Mr. Brand had been earning money via the platforms.
She also wrote to GB News, saying it was "concerning" that a host defended Mr. Brand on X, formerly known as Twitter, and on air.
GB News and Rumble defended the rights to free speech and due process in their responses, with Rumble saying Dame Caroline's letter was "extremely disturbing."
Her letters have also angered social media users and free speech advocates.
Laurence Fox, leader of the Reclaim Party, called on her to resign, saying "the foundations of modern liberal democracy and civilization itself depend on the presumption of innocence."
Mr. Brand previously struggled with addiction problems and openly spoke of his alcohol and drug abuse and promiscuity in his comedy routines. In recent years, the flamboyant Hollywood star reinvented himself as an outspoken challenger of the establishment and corporate media, offering alternative views on topics including COVID-19 and U.S. politics.
Over the weekend, The Times of London, The Sunday Times, and Channel 4’s “Dispatches” programme published allegations from four anonymous women who accused Mr. Brand of rape, sexual assault, and indecent exposure between 2006 and 2013 after a four-year joint investigation.
The women said they initially had consensual intercourse with Mr. Brand, but their relationships turned either physically aggressive or mentally abusive and ended in rape or assaults.
One woman said she had contemplated reporting to the police but decided against it. Another said she was 16 at the time and now believes she has been groomed. She also called on the UK to change the age of consent from 16 to 18.
Shortly before the publication, Mr. Brand released a video denying any criminal allegations and accusing the media outlets of launching a “coordinated” attack on him.
The Metropolitan police later said it received one report on Sunday "of a sexual assault which was alleged to have taken place in Soho in central London in 2003."
GB NewsIn a letter (pdf) to GB News CEO Angelos Frangopoulos, Dame Caroline said the committee is "concerned" that presenter Beverley Turner, who defended Mr. Brand on X, was later allowed to defend him again on her show.
She called Mr. Brand a "hero" and said he was welcome on her show any time.
Ms. Turner said she didn't believe there was any "smoking gun" in the allegations, while Mr. Pierce said it was "shameful" that she dismissed the four-year investigation and said that should have established whether the "very serious allegations" were true before calling Mr. Brand a hero.
In her letter, Dame Caroline suggested GB News may have broken the impartiality rules.
"While Ms. Turner was challenged on her comments at length by her co-presenter, Andrew Pierce, we remain concerned that having a presenter so clearly supporting an individual who is the subject of intense media coverage, including seeking their appearance on the show, undermines any perception of due impartiality in the broadcasting," she said.
The former culture minister also mentioned another GB News show host Dan Wootton, saying the committee was "aware" that Mr. Wootton, who had been accused of sexual misconduct, "continues to broadcast on GB News, and indeed discussed the accusations against him during a broadcast on the channel" in July.
She asked GB News to set out their discussions with presenters "on their responsibilities on due impartiality and professionalism when seeking to front coverage of news events" and any actions it intends to take "in response to these issues."
The broadcaster responded by stating that none of the allegations against the two individuals had been "admitted or proved by an independent body."
Rumble and OthersDame Caroline also wrote to Rumble (pdf), X (pdf), Facebook (pdf), and TikTok (pdf), asking whether they plan to follow YouTube's step and suspend Mr. Brand's ability to monetise his content.
She also asked X whether its owner Elon Musk had personally intervened in any decisions on Mr. Brand's status on the platform because Mr. Musk reacted to Mr. Brand's video in which he accused corporate media of attacking him, writing, "Of course. They don’t like competition.”
TikTok has replied to the letter saying Mr. Brand had never been part of its monetisation programme.
"While Rumble obviously deplores sexual assault, rape, and all serious crimes, and believes that both alleged victims and the accused are entitled to a full and serious investigation, it is vital to note that recent allegations against Russell Brand have nothing to do with content on Rumble's platform," the statement reads.
Rumble said it stands for "very different values" from what YouTube does and is "devoted" to "defending a free internet.
"We emphatically reject the UK Parliament's demands," the statement said.
Slippery SlopeAlan Miller, co-founder of the civil rights campaign group Together, expressed his shock on X that Dame Caroline all but asked the platform to demonetise Mr. Brand solely based on allegations.
Comedian Francis Foster said the letter to Rumble is "how you turn every single person on this website into a conspiracy theorist."
Some X users have flocked to Dame Caroline's account, calling on her to resign.
Benjamin Jones, outreach director at the Free Speech Union, told GB News there's no reason for an MP to get involved.
While the allegations are serious, "once you start down the path of members of parliament thinking it's their job to intervene ... and try and have people demonetised before there's been any police investigation allowed to play out, before there's been a trial for any judicial process, I think once you start down that slippery slope is going to be very difficult for society to stop doing that," he said.
Mr. Jones said there's "no need for an MP to involve themselves in this in this way in a case like that."