GB News faces fine after Ofcom finds Rishi Sunak forum broke impartiality rules

Ofcom said it received 547 complaints about the live current affairs programme with the prime minister

Emma Guinness
Monday 20 May 2024 15:38 BST
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Chancellor Rishi Sunak tells GB News that he is a 'fiscal Conservative'

GB News faces being fined after a programme featuring prime minister Rishi Sunak was found to have breached Ofcom impartiality rules.

Ofcom is “starting the process for consideration of a statutory sanction against GB News” following the release of the programme in February, the watchdog said on Monday.

People’s Forum: The Prime Minister was found to have broken impartiality rules on Monday (20 May).

The show, which saw Mr Sunak answer questions from the audience during a live hour-long programme, was presented in the context of the upcoming general election.

Ofcom said: “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.”

The broadcasting regulator said that the show prompted 547 complaints.

It said there was “no issue with this programme’s editorial format in principle”, but the broadcaster failed to “ensure an appropriately wide range of significant views was given” to ensure political impartiality.

Paul Marshall is stepping down from the board of GB News after three years
Paul Marshall is stepping down from the board of GB News after three years (PA)

The media watchdog also said: “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.”

The programme was found to have breached Ofcom impartiality rules
The programme was found to have breached Ofcom impartiality rules (GB news/Matt Pover. GB news/Matt Pover/Handout via Reuters)

Ofcom said: “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 Ppesenter challenged or otherwise referred to significant alternative views on these.”

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“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.”

The broadcaster has criticised Ofcom for its actions
The broadcaster has criticised Ofcom for its actions (GB news/Matt Pover. GB news/Matt Pover/Handout via Reuters)

GB News has hit out at the action being taken by Ofcom and described it as an “attempt to silence” the broadcaster.

A GB News spokesperson said: “Ofcom’s finding against GB News today is an alarming development in its attempt to silence us by standing in the way of a forum that allows the public to question politicians directly.

“The regulator’s threat to punish a news organisation with sanctions for enabling people to challenge their own prime minister strikes at the heart of democracy at a time when it could not be more vital.

“GB News is the people’s channel. That is why we created a new broadcasting format, The People’s Forum, which placed the public – not journalists – firmly in charge of questioning Rishi Sunak.”

GB News has come under fierce criticism since it first began broadcasting in 2021. Ofcom has previously come under fire for concluding that serving MPs such as Lee Anderson can present on GB News as long as they don’t adopt the style and mannerisms of an unbiased newsreader or interviewer.

Downing Street has defended Ofcom
Downing Street has defended Ofcom (PA)

Downing Street has defended Ofcom for ruling. When asked if the prime minister stil has confidence in the regulator, a No 10 spokesperson said: “Yes, of course, they’re an independent regulator, it’s important for them to be able to carry out their duties independently.

“In this specific instance, it is obviously the producer who needs to respond to the first instance.

“From the prime minister’s perspective he will regularly undertake interviews in a range of formats for a range of different albums and continues to do so in an important process.

“He and other cabinet ministers and other politicians are interviewed in a wide range of forms from a wide range of broadcasters.”

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