British media regulator Ofcom says a March broadcast of a morning program on the right-of-center channel GB News violated its rules on due impartiality.
The segment aired on “Saturday Morning with Esther and Phil,” a morning commentary program hosted by two Conservative Members of Parliament.
The program in question featured a pre-recorded interview with Jeremy Hunt, a fellow Member of Parliament, who was asked for his views on various economic and fiscal policies about a week before he unveiled his budget proposal for the year.
The segment generated more than 40 complaints from the public, Ofcom said in a press release on Monday.
“Ofcom recognizes that, in line with the right to freedom of expression, broadcasters are free to decide the editorial approach of their programs, [and] this includes offering their audiences innovative forms of debate,” a spokesperson for Ofcom said in a statement. “We also consider it essential for current affairs programs to be able to discuss and analyze controversial matters and take a position on those issues — but in doing so, broadcasters must observe the rules set out in the Broadcasting Code.”
Specifically, the Broadcast Code requires that when television programs are covering matters of “political controversy” or “current public policy,” they seek out a broad range of “significant views” that are offered equal weight during the show.
The proposed budget involved “a significant political event of natural importance,” in that the hosts asked MP Hunt for his views on the forthcoming budget and various related matters.
Ofcom said GB News affirmed the segment “dealt with a matter of major political controversy and current public policy, and that the special impartiality rules applied.” Despite this, Ofcom said its investigators found that “in discussing these matters, the program was overwhelmingly reflective of the viewpoints of different strands of opinion within the Conservative Party.”
“There were only very limited references to wider perspectives on UK economic and fiscal policy in the context of the forthcoming budget,” a spokesperson for Ofcom said.
Additionally, Ofcom took note that MPs Esther McVey and Philip Davies, who are Conservative, were interviewing a fellow Conservative politician.
It is the third time Ofcom has ruled against GB News for various violations of broadcast-related rules. Six other investigations remain pending.
The broadcast rules are a relic of an era when most people tuned to broadcast radio and television to receive information about political matters, and to hear balanced discourse concerning the same.
Among other things, the rules say sitting politicians are not allowed to present themselves as news reporters or presenters when hosting programs that air on news or current events channels. That rules was implemented at a time when straightforward news broadcasts dominated both radio and television.
With more politicians hosting commentary programs on news channels, Ofcom said earlier this year it was willing to receive input from the public to gauge whether it was necessary to re-examine some of its policies.
“Given the rise in the number of current affairs programs presented by sitting politicians and recent public interest in this issue, we are conducting research to gauge current audience attitudes towards these programs,” Ofcom said.