Ofcom mulls statutory sanction against GB News

Ofcom’s HQ (Source: Ofcom)

UK regulator Ofcom has ruled that controversial right-wing news channel GB News broke due impartiality rules during its broadcast People’s Forum: The Prime Minister, featuring audience members quizzing prime minister Rishi Sunak.

Ofcom said that it was now starting a process for consideration of a statutory sanction against GB news.

The watchdog acted after receiving 547 complaints from members of the public about the hour-long show.

Ofcom said that because the show, featuring Sunak before a live audience in the context of the forthcoming general election, constituted a ‘major matter’ under its rules, heightened special impartiality rules applied.

Ofcom said that it had “no issue” with the format “in principle”, arguing that broadcasters were free to use different formats “in line with freedom of expression”, but that they had to play by the rules of the Broadcasting Code.

The regulator said that the audience was not given the ability to challenge Sunak’s response to questions to any meaningful extent, that Sunak was able to set out planned polices that would be implemented if the Conservative Party won the election, with no challenge or alternative viewpoint presented, that he was able to criticize opposition Labour Party policies with no opportunity for the Labour Party’s views or other significant views to be presented, and that no reference was made to any future agreed programme that would include a wider range of significant views.

It said that GB News’s approach was “wholly insufficient” and that the programme breached Rules 5.11 and 5.1 of the Broadcasting Code.

Ofcom said it would now consider a statutory sanction, with a decision to be taken in 60 working days.

The ruling prompted a public reaction from the broadcaster, which condemned it as “an alarming development in its attempt to silence us buy standing in the way of a forum that allows the public to question politicians directly” that “strikes at the heart of democracy”.

Ofcom has been repeatedly criticized for failing to hold GB News to the same impartiality standards that apply to mainstream broadcasters such as the UK’s public service broadcasters, with the watchdog’s apparent reluctance to challenge GB News’ use of right-wing politicians as presenters coming under particular scrutiny.

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