GB News Placed “On Notice” By Ofcom After Five Code Breaches Regarding Politicians Acting As News Presenters

Ofcom has delivered its biggest GB News judgement yet, finding the network in breach on five different occasions over the thorny issue of politicians acting as news presenters.

Ofcom said GB News is now “on notice that any repeated breaches of Rules 5.1 and 5.3 may result in the imposition of a statutory sanction” that could include a fine. Sanctions can also include a direction not to repeat content, a direction to broadcast a correction or a statement of Ofcom’s findings and, in the most serious cases, shortening, suspending or revoking a licence.

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The shows found to have been in breach are two episodes of Jacob Rees-Mogg’s State of the Nation, two episodes of Friday Morning with Esther and Phil, and one episode of Saturday Morning with Esther and Phil, broadcast during May and June 2023. These episodes broke the part of the Ofcom code that says, “News, in whatever form, must be… presented with due impartiality” and “No politician may be used as a newsreader, interviewer or reporter in any news programmes unless, exceptionally, it is editorially justified.” A sixth incident in Jacob Rees Mogg’s State of the Nation was not pursued – again over due impartiality – and escaped punishment.

The issue has been a thorny one in recent months as frustrated viewers and opposition parties have repeatedly raised how many of GB News’ news shows are hosted by members of the ruling Conservative Party.

The shows in question are presented by Conservative MPs Jacob Rees-Mogg, Esther McVey and Phillip Davies, and include topical discussions around the issues of the day.

Ofcom said it had taken “careful consideration of the facts in each case –  including forensic analysis of the content and detailed representations from GB News.”

“All five programmes in question contained a mix of news and current affairs content,” said Ofcom. “We found that host politicians acted as newsreaders, news interviewers or news reporters in sequences which clearly constituted news – including reporting breaking news events – without exceptional justification. News was, therefore, not presented with due impartiality.”

Ofcom added that “politicians have an inherently partial role in society and news content presented by them is likely to be viewed by audiences in light of that perceived bias.”

Ofcom said that GB News has been “put on notice that any repeated breaches of Rules 5.1 and 5.3 may result in the imposition of a statutory sanction.”

It said no sanctions will be taken at this time as it had taken into account that GB News has not previously breached Rules 5.1 or 5.3, while noting that the programs were broadcast in May and June 2023, “and we have only had reason to open one further investigation under these rules since we opened these five investigations.”

Responding, GB News said it was “deeply concerned” and will “raise this with the regulator” in the strongest possible terms.” GB News described the move as “chilling for all broadcasters, for freedom of speech, and for everyone in the United Kingdom.”

GB News was rapped earlier this month by Ofcom over Laurence Fox’s highly misogynistic rant about a female journalist, which led to him being fired from the station and presenter Dan Wootton leaving. Ofcom summoned GB News to a meeting at its offices over this particular breach.

GB News is being investigated for multiple other infringements of Ofcom’s code including  Rishi Sunak’s on-air ‘grilling’ in People’s Forum: The Prime Minister, which attracted more than 500 complaints.

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