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Ofcom to investigate complaints against talk shows

A still frame from a program aired by GB News. (Courtesy image)
A still frame from a program aired by GB News. (Courtesy image)

British television regulator Ofcom has launched investigations against a pair of political talk shows and their channels.

The first complaint involves “State of the Nation,” a program hosted by Conservative politician and former cabinet minister Jacob Rees-Mogg, who was the subject of nearly 40 complaints following a broadcast that covered the verdict in a sexual assault trial against former U.S. President Donald Trump.

Under Britain’s broadcast rules, politicians are not permitted to act as news presenters unless there are “exceptional circumstances,” which could include breaking news coverage on extreme matters like a natural disaster. Even when they do act as news presenters, they must show impartiality, including during interviews with others, according to the rules.

The latter part of those rules are the subject of the second probe, which examines the role of Alex Salmond on Talk TV during an airing of the program “Richard Tice on Talk TV.” Two people lobbed complaints against Salmond and Talk TV over a segment on the Scottish National Party (SNP), where Salmond claimed that the SNP was “hold[ing] back the course of independence.”

A spokesperson with Ofcom affirmed the two investigations were in addition to a third launched earlier this year concerning a GB News program hosted on the weekend.

Ofcom has the ability to regulate content on terrestrial and pay television channels alike, and imposes the same restrictions on broadcasters who simulcast their programming on streaming platforms like YouTube, Facebook and Twitter. The regulator can impose fines against broadcasters who run afoul of their rules, and has been known to cancel licenses for serious offenses, which can cause a channel to cease broadcasting.

GB News and Talk TV are some of the first channels to use current and former politicians as program hosts, something that was rarely seen on British television until recently, and a strategy that is thought to mirror American channels like Fox News and Newsmax. In 2005, Ofcom imposed new restrictions that didn’t entirely forbid politicians from hosting programs, but did try to make the line between opinion shows and news a bit clearer.

“The rules around politicians presenting programs were first introduced in 2005,” a spokesperson for Ofcom said in a statement. “Given the rise in the number of current affairs programs presented by sitting politicians and recent public interest in this issue, we are conducting new research to gauge current audience attitudes towards these programs. This will be carried out by an expert research agency, and we aim to publish the findings later this year.”

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About the Author:

Matthew Keys

Matthew Keys is a nationally-recognized, award-winning journalist who has covered the business of media, technology, radio and television for more than 10 years. He is the publisher of The Desk and contributes to Know Techie, Digital Content Next and StreamTV Insider. He previously worked for Thomson Reuters, the Walt Disney Company, McNaughton Newspapers and Tribune Broadcasting.
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