GB News could face Ofcom punishment after breach

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak participates in the GB News People's Forum in County Durham, Britain, February 12, 2024
People's Forum: The Prime Minister saw Rishi Sunak take questions from the public [Reuters]

Ofcom has said it is considering a statutory sanction against GB News, after the channel was found to have broken due impartiality rules.

The broadcast regulator announced in February it was investigating a Q&A session which saw Prime Minister Rishi Sunak take questions from the public.

On Monday, Ofcom said it had concluded the programme, called People's Forum: The Prime Minister, broke its broadcasting 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 said.

In a statement, GB News 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."

A GB News journalist conducts a live interview on the promenade on June 24, 2021 in Weymouth, United Kingdom. GB News was launched on 13 June 2021 and is a British free-to-air television news channel.
[Getty Images]

The broadcast regulator said the episode received a total of 547 complaints and was "presented in the context of the forthcoming UK general election".

Ofcom had "no issue with this programme's editorial format in principle", it said in its ruling.

"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 regulator noted the Labour Party's positions and views were not included, and nor was there a reference to any future programme where they would be.

Ofcom concluded: "We found that an appropriately wide range of significant viewpoints was not presented and given due weight in this case.

"As a result, Rishi Sunak had a mostly uncontested platform to promote the policies and performance of his government in a period preceding a UK general election."

The prime minister has said there will be a general election in the second half of 2024.

According to its website, Ofcom's sanctions could see the broadcast regulator:

  • impose a financial penalty

  • shorten a licence

  • revoke a licence

  • issue a direction not to repeat a programme

  • issue a direction to broadcast a correction or a statement of Ofcom’s finding

The broadcast regulator has found GB News in breach of its rules 12 times since it launched in 2021.

There are seven investigations still outstanding, including one into a programme hosted by its former presenter Dan Wootton in relation to fairness and privacy rules.

An episode of Nigel Farage's show is being investigated for due impartiality.

Other programmes, including Breakfast with Eamonn [Holmes] and Isabel [Webster] are being investigated under rules about due impartiality and broadcaster views/opinions.

In March, Ofcom told the channel it was "on notice" over future breaches.

The regulator warned repeated contraventions of the relevant part of its code could lead to a sanction.