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December 13, 2022

GB News was biggest media spender on MPs in past year, analysis shows

The highest earning MPs from the media were David Lammy, Esther McVey and Jess Phillips.

By Andrew Kersley

Sixty MPs made just under £350,000 from media appearances last year with some of the highest earning netting upwards of £40,000 a year, new Press Gazette analysis of the register of MPs’ financial interests has found.

Fledgling right-leaning news outlet GB News was by far the biggest spender, paying Westminster MPs £82,040 between October 2021 and September 2022 for appearances or presenting programmes, at almost twice the rate of its next nearest competitor.

The channel had promised at launch to focus on stories outside of Greater London, in opposition to a media that it said was “too metropolitan, too southern and too middle-class”, but its editorial strategy soon changed after the departure of launch editorial director John McAndrew.

The highest earning MPs, David Lammy, Esther McVey and Jess Phillips, all netted over £33,00, the median UK salary, for their part-time media work on top of their £84,144 annual salary as MPs.

Shadow Foreign Secretary Lammy earned £47,532 from presenting a radio show for LBC, while former Cabinet minister McVey earned £43,498 through a mixture of a regular column for the Express, presenting on GB News and an array of other newspaper articles.

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Former Labour leadership contender Phillips meanwhile earned over £41,000 thanks to a column in The Independent worth £15,120 a year, appearances on Have I Got News For You and articles for magazines like The New Statesman.

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Backbench Tory MP Phillip Davies netted £31,564 in outside income, largely thanks to his role co-presenting a GB News programme with McVey, who is also his wife.

The 1922 Committee chair Graham Brady made nearly £31,000, largely thanks to £26,000 he makes annually from chairing an MP advisory committee for parliamentary magazine The House, as well as an array of columns in the Mail, Telegraph and Express among others.

Bishop Auckland MP Dehenna Davison, who was elected in just 2019 but recently announced her plans to stand down as an MP at the next election, made £22,548 from presenting a programme on GB News.

Which news brands spent the most on MPs?

While GB News was the biggest spender in Parliament, overall MPs made more from print journalism (£155,711) than TV (£134,845). Radio, meanwhile, contributed a further £56,582.

GB News’ £82,040 spend on MPs was followed by LBC (£53,152), The House magazine (£29,450), Mail publisher Associated Newspapers (£24,650) and Murdoch-owned News UK (£23,925).

Most of News UK’s spend was made up of £17,225 spent by news channel TalkTV on MPs as panellists on various programmes since its April launch, alongside a number of columns in The Sun.

The heavy spending of the two start-up news channels was in stark contrast to their established peers, with the BBC, ITV and Channel 4 collectively spending just £3,450 for MPs to make media appearances.

Reach spent £22,241 on columns from MPs in the Express, Mirror and their Sunday sister titles. The Telegraph, meanwhile, spent £14,240 over the year, nearly £1,000 less than The Independent spent on its sole paid MP columnist Jess Phillips. 

The Guardian spent £2,403 on articles and columns by sitting MPs in the last year.

The rest of the total was made up of a mixture of magazines titles like The New Statesman, The Spectator and Unherd, regional publishers like Newsquest and JPI Media, and other independent outlets and TV production companies.

Media and MP hospitality

In addition, 32 MPs have received £33,115 in gifts or free hospitality from news media companies, with Shadow Culture Secretary Lucy Powell receiving the most at £3,633.

More than half of this came from Channel 4, which covered the cost of Powell’s tickets to the Baftas and a rugby match.

In total Channel 4 spent £15,173, almost half the overall spend, on hospitality and gifts for MPs.

It came during a fraught year for the broadcaster as it faced the threat of privatisation by now former Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries. While Prime Minister Rishi Sunak initially vowed to press on with the privatisation, current Culture Secretary Michelle Donelan said in September that the Government would “re-examine the business case” for selling off the broadcaster and last week gave the update that she was “reviewing the other options for providing long-term sustainability around Channel 4”.

After Channel 4, LBC owner Global spent £4,575 on free tickets, hospitality and gifts for MPs, Sky spent £3,910, and Welsh broadcaster S4C spent £2,800.

Methodology for MP and media analysis

Press Gazette determined the annual media earnings of each MP by analysing their filings in the MPs’ register of public interests between October 2021 and September 2022. The figure is likely to be an underestimate as some MPs add payments or gifts to the register late.

Alongside columns, presenting roles and other more conventional media earnings, the overall earnings figures also include payments from third-party production companies for current affairs programmes like Have I Got News For You or Question Time, as well as background roles, like the group of MPs who are paid advisors to the The House magazine.

In any case where a production company paid an MP rather than a broadcaster, the fee was not attributed to the MP’s overall total. In many cases MPs specified only the company that paid them, not the specific news title.

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