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Ofcom gets tough on GB News

GB News / Talk TV

Ofcom gets tough on GB News

After several slaps on the wrist, Ofcom appears to finally have got tough with GB News over its broadcasting code breaches…

An Ofcom investigation today concluded that People’s Forum: The Prime Minister on GB News broke broadcasting due impartiality rules. The findings have left the seemingly Tory leaning channel furious.

“Given this represents a serious and repeated breach of these rules, we are now starting the process for consideration of a statutory sanction against GB News.”Ofcom

Ofcom received 547 complaints about this live, hour-long current affairs programme on the channel that brands itself as a “news channel” despite being more akin to a talk radio style opinions on the news format – with the addition of magazine show type ‘win cash competitions’. The programme falling foul in question featured the Tory Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, in a question-and-answer session with a studio audience about the Government’s policies and performance, presented in the context of the forthcoming UK General Election.

The regulator notes the production, content and topic fell under ‘a major matter’, so their set of heightened special impartiality requirements applied to it.

Ofcom adds that they have ‘no issue with this programme’s editorial format in principle. In line with freedom of expression, broadcasters are free to innovate and use different editorial techniques in their programming – including offering audiences innovative forms of debate. But in doing so, they must observe the rules in our Broadcasting Code.’

“We recognised that this programme would focus mainly on the Conservative Party’s policies and track record on many specific issues, meaning that Conservative viewpoints would be prevalent. We are clear that this, in and of itself, did not mean the programme could not comply with due impartiality rules under the Code.”Ofcom

The television regulator said that it was incumbent on GB News, however, given the major matters under discussion, to ensure that an appropriately wide range of significant views  was given due weight in the programme or in other clearly linked and timely programmes. It is this where the programme fell short.

In considering whether the programme was duly impartial, Ofcom note that they took into account a ‘range of factors’, such as the audience’s questions to the Prime Minister; the Prime Minister’s responses; the presenter’s contribution; and whether due impartiality was preserved through clearly linked and timely programmes.

The Ofcom findings reveal that in their view ‘while some of the audience’s questions provided some challenge to, and criticism of, the Government’s policies and performance, audience members were not able to challenge the Prime Minister’s responses and the Presenter did not do this to any meaningful extent.’

The channel, which employs a number of Tory MPs as presenters, also gave the Prime Minister a platform to ‘set out future policies that his Government planned to implement, if re-elected in the forthcoming UK General Election.’ But neither the audience nor the presenter – former Sky News anchor Stephen Dixon – ‘challenged or otherwise referred to significant alternative views on these.’

Ofcom also found that the programme saw the Prime Minister criticise aspects of the Labour Party’s policies and performance. ‘While politicians are of course able to do this in programmes, broadcasters must ensure that due impartiality is preserved.’ Neither the Labour Party’s views or positions on those issues, or any other significant views on those issues were included in the programme or given due weight; and GB News did not, and was not able to, include a reference in the programme to an agreed future programme in which an appropriately wide range of significant views on the major matter would be presented and given due weight.

“We also took into account that, during the course of our investigation, GB News said: it had purposefully not been aware of the questions which audience members would ask the Prime Minister; made an editorial decision that the Presenter would not intervene or challenge views expressed; and that there were no other editorial means for alternative views to be included in the programme.”Ofcom

Previous issues have seen no major repercussions for GB News, while similar incidents if they had happened on PSB broadcasters would have more than likely provoked fines; leaving some to suggest the channel was being treated differently due to not being the BBC, ITV or Sky.

It now seems this ‘light touch’ approach has come to and and with Ofcom noting, ‘given the very high compliance risks this programme presented, we found GB News’s approach to compliance to be wholly insufficient, and consider it could have, and should have, taken additional steps to mitigate these risks.’

They add that they found that an appropriately wide range of significant viewpoints were not presented and given due weight in the People’s Forum: The Prime Minister, nor was due impartiality preserved through clearly linked and timely programmes.

“As a result, we consider that the Prime Minister had a mostly uncontested platform to promote the policies and performance of his Government in a period preceding a UK General Election. We have therefore recorded a breach of Rules 5.11 and 5.12 of the Broadcasting Code against GB News.”Ofcom

Ofcom considers the network’s failure to preserve due impartiality in this case to be serious and given its two previous breaches of these rules the regulator note it is a repeated issue by GB News. The regulator has stated that due to the latest breach they will be starting a process for consideration of a statutory sanction against the “news channel”.

In response, GB News noted:

“Ofcom’s finding against GB News today is an alarming development in its attempt to silence us by standing in the way of a forum that allows the public to question politicians directly. The regulator’s threat to punish a news organisation with sanctions for enabling people to challenge their own prime minister strikes at the heart of democracy at a time when it could not be more vital.

“GB News is the People’s Channel. That is why we created a new broadcasting format, The People’s Forum, which placed the public – not journalists – firmly in charge of questioning Rishi Sunak. Our live programme gave an independently selected group of undecided voters the freedom to challenge the Prime Minister without interference.

“They did this robustly, intelligently, and freely. Their 15 questions, which neither we nor the Prime Minister saw beforehand, kept him under constant pressure and covered a clearly diverse range of topics. These were their words on the issues that mattered to them. Among many other challenges, the Prime Minister was criticised over the ‘chronic underfunding’ of social care, the housing shortage, the likely failure of his government’s Rwanda plan, the betrayal of those injured by the Covid vaccine, and asked why the LGBT community should vote for him.

“We cannot fathom how Ofcom can claim this programme lacked the ‘appropriately wide range of significant views’ required to uphold due impartiality. It did not. We maintain that the programme was in line with the Broadcasting Code. Ofcom is obliged by law to uphold freedom of speech and not to interfere with the right of all news organisations to make their own editorial decisions within the law.

“Its finding today is a watershed moment that should terrify anyone who believes, as we do, that the media’s role is to give a voice to the people of the United Kingdom, especially those who all too often feel unheard or ignored by their politicians. We are proud to be the People’s Channel and we will never stop fighting for the right of everyone in the UK, whatever their political persuasion, to have their perspective heard.”

TV Critic Vivian Summers suggests that it would be “Interesting if someone looked through the archive of GB News and found how many times they spoke in a positive tone about the Tories and a negative tone about Labour, and vice versa” she adds, “This is the problem, it is all very well having ‘mixed views’ on a show, but when the host is airing their views and the programme is clearly slanted in one direction the token ‘other opinion’ isn’t really balanced is it? – that is a problem and Ofcom needs to deal with it.”

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