Whistleblowers call out Channel 4 News over ‘gagging orders’

Campaign mounts against non-disclosure agreements to ‘silence’ female staff at the UK public-service broadcaster

Whistleblowers Gretchen Carlson and Zelda Perkins are among dozens of high-profile women calling on Channel 4 News to free all former staff from “gagging orders” amid mounting concern over the programme’s alleged use of confidentiality agreements to silence staff in equal pay, discrimination, harassment and victimisation cases.

MPs say they have seen at least seven gagging orders relating to women working in the Channel 4 newsroom, with at least two appearing to have been issued late last year.

Carlson, the former Fox News anchor who successfully sued her ex-boss, Roger Ailes, for sexual harassment and Perkins, who broke her non-disclosure agreement relating to Harvey Weinstein, are among those demanding Channel 4 News rescinds confidentiality agreements that they claim have been used to silence women.

They want the public service broadcaster to “earn its reputation as an inclusive and progressive workplace” and follow the example of NBC News in the US, which has released all former employees who signed nondisclosure agreements over sexual harassment claims.

“We think the same needs to happen in Britain, too. Gagging orders are the opposite of journalism. Journalism uncovers the truth, gagging orders hide it,” said an open letter backed by 30 prominent campaigners and which includes cross-party MP support.

Among the signatories are Carrie Gracie, who became a figurehead for BBC women when she resigned as China editor in 2018 over pay inequalities and prominent BBC journalist Samira Ahmed.

Samira Ahmed BBC journalist
Samira Ahmed is among signatories on the open letter to Channel 4 News. Photograph: Yui Mok/PA

Perkins’s decision to break the NDAs that the now convicted rapist Weinstein forced her to sign prompted wide debate over the misuse of gagging orders. She said this weekend: “Their use has to stop.” She added: “When used wrongly, they become secret settlement contracts used to hide wrongdoing.”

Labour MP Jess Phillips, who campaigns for women’s rights, said: “People who feel they have been silenced in cases of maternity discrimination, bullying or harassment should be free to talk.

“In my experience, the silencing of women furthers the abuse, it’s part of the pattern of abuse. People don’t sign these things in a completely free-choice environment; where there is a power imbalance, you cannot say that.”

Other MPs to back the letter include Labour’s Stella Creasy, the SNP’s Alison Thewliss and former Home Office minister Caroline Nokes, who chairs the women and equalities committee.

Recently, the Tory MP and former culture secretary Maria Miller wrote to Deborah Turness, chief executive of ITN, which makes Channel 4 News, after being “approached by a number of whistleblowers” to raise her concerns.

Carrie Gracie resigned as BBC China editor in 2018 over pay inequality.
Carrie Gracie resigned as BBC China editor in 2018 over pay inequality. Photograph: Jean Goldsmith/The Observer

The letter, also signed by Patsy Stevenson, whose photograph went viral after her arrest at a vigil following the murder of Sarah Everard and Joeli Brearley of Pregnant then Screwed, adds: “Channel 4 News women deserve the dignity of telling their stories. We believe all former ITN staff deserve the dignity of being heard.”

Employers often use NDAs and confidentiality clauses in the settlement of employment cases, but campaigners argue they can be misused to bury cases of sexual harassment, discrimination and racism.

Channel 4 News journalists have covered the misuse of NDAs in the past, even making a powerful documentary about women required to sign NDAs after working with Weinstein.

One former employee recently told the Guardian she was left ​​feeling “traumatised” and “gagged” after signing a settlement agreement containing a confidentiality clause with the company.

A statement from ITN said: “The settlement agreements used by ITN for employment matters are standard across many industries and include a whistleblowing clause enabling any individual to speak out about wrongdoing where it is a matter of public interest. The inclusion of confidentiality provisions is agreed by mutual consent, often at the request of the individual and their lawyer.

“We maintain a zero-tolerance approach to any form of bullying, harassment or discrimination, and investigate any alleged incidents fully before taking appropriate action where necessary.”


Mark Townsend

The GuardianTramp

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