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GB News could face sanction after breaking due impartiality rules

An Ofcom investigation today concluded that People’s Forum: The Prime Minister (PDF, 612.8 KB) on GB News broke broadcasting due impartiality rules. 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 received 547 complaints about this live, hour-long current affairs programme. It featured the 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. This met the definition of a major matter under our rules, so the heightened special impartiality requirements applied.

Ofcom has 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 a number of 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.

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.

What we found

In considering whether the programme was duly impartial, we 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. Our investigation found, in summary, that:

  • 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 Prime Minister was able to set out future policies that his Government planned to implement, if re-elected in the forthcoming UK General Election. Neither the audience nor the Presenter challenged or otherwise referred to significant alternative views on these;
  • the Prime Minister criticised 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.

Our decision

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.

We 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.

Starting our sanctions process

Ofcom considers GB News’s failure to preserve due impartiality in this case to be serious and – given its two previous breaches of these rules – repeated. We are therefore now starting our process for consideration of a statutory sanction against GB News.

In line with our published sanctions procedures, (PDF, 189.7 KB) we aim to conclude our consideration within 60 working days. If we consider that a sanction may be appropriate, the broadcaster is informed of our Preliminary View and is subsequently given the opportunity to make written and oral representations to us. Subject to these representations, we reach a final decision.

Channel website: https://www.ofcom.org.uk/

Original article link: https://www.ofcom.org.uk/news-centre/2024/gb-news-could-face-sanction-after-breaking-due-impartiality-rules

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