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GB News in multiple rules breaches

March 18, 2024

By Colin Mann

A series of investigations by UK broadcast regulator Ofcom has concluded that five programmes on GB News featuring politicians acting as news presenters broke broadcasting due impartiality rules.

Under the Broadcasting Code, news, in whatever form, must be presented with due impartiality. Additionally, a politician cannot be a newsreader, news interviewer or news reporter unless, exceptionally, there is editorial justification.

In line with the right to freedom of expression, broadcasters have editorial freedom to offer audiences a wide range of programme formats, including using politicians to present current affairs or other non-news programmes. Politicians may also appear in broadcast news content as an interviewee or any other type of guest.

Individual programmes can also feature a mix of news and non-news content and move between the two genres. If, however, a licensee chooses to use a politician as a presenter in a programme containing both news and current affairs content, it must take steps to ensure they do not act as a newsreader, news interviewer or news reporter in that programme.

After careful consideration of the facts in each case –  including forensic analysis of the content and detailed representations from GB News – Ofcom found that 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, failed to comply with Rules 5.1 and 5.3 of the Broadcasting Code.

All five programmes in question contained a mix of news and current affairs content. Ofcom 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.

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. In Ofcom’s view, the use of politicians to present the news risks undermining the integrity and credibility of regulated broadcast news. It therefore considered it was necessary and proportionate to find a breach of Rules 5.1 and 5.3 in these circumstances.

Ofcom is also publishing its reasons for deciding that a sixth programme – a separate episode of Jacob Rees-Mogg’s State of the Nation – did not raise issues warranting investigation under these rules. This provides broadcasters with an example of what constitutes exceptional editorial justification as allowed by Rule 5.3. In the case of this live programme, Jacob Rees-Mogg was used as an eye-witness, in situ news reporter during an unforeseen security incident at Buckingham Palace.

These are the first breaches of Rules 5.1 and 5.3 recorded against GB News. Since opening these investigations, there has only been one further programme which has raised issues warranting investigation under these rules. Ofcom says it is clear, however, that GB News is put on notice that any repeated breaches of Rules 5.1 and 5.3 may result in the imposition of a statutory sanction.

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