Ofcom Warns UK Broadcasters Over General Election Programing Following GB News Breaches

Any British broadcaster who breaches general election programing rules will be hit with an Ofcom sanction, the regulator has said, a warning likely informed by a number of GB News breaches over the past year.

In a strongly-worded broadside to the broadcasting community, Ofcom said it is putting broadcasters “on notice to maintain due impartiality ahead of the general election.”

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“In particular, broadcasters are reminded that Rule 6.6 of the Code prohibits candidates in UK elections from acting as news presenters, interviewers or presenters of any type of programme during the election period,” Ofcom said today.

The right-leaning GB News has been found to be in breach a number of times for its practice of having politicians host news programs, with the likes of Jacob Rees-Mogg, Esther McVey and Phillip Davies falling foul. GB News has been investigated more than a dozen times for a variety of potential breaches by Ofcom over the past year and was recently placed “on notice that any repeated breaches of Rules 5.1 and 5.3 may result in the imposition of a statutory sanction” after breaking the rules five times.

Ofcom’s rules allow for politicians to present shows but they must not deliver straight news, and rules are tightened in the weeks leading up to the election, as the regulator stressed today.

“With a General Election due to take place before 25 January 2025, we are sounding a warning to broadcasters to maintain the highest level of due impartiality, in line with our enhanced rules that apply during election periods,” said Ofcom today. “Any breaches of election programming rules are likely to be serious and to result in Ofcom considering the imposition of statutory sanctions.”

Sanctions can include fines, a direction not to repeat content, a direction to broadcast a correction or a statement of Ofcom’s findings or, in the most serious cases, shortening, suspending or revoking a licence.

The general election has to take place before January 2025 but could well be earlier, with many predicting it will most likely take place in the fall.

Ofcom today also unveiled research on politicians presenting TV and radio shows and found that audience feedback “broadly supports existing ‘due impartiality’ rules in the Broadcasting Code.”

“People expressed a range of views about politicians presenting current affairs programmes, but although there were concerns, there’s no clear consensus for an outright ban,” said Ofcom. “Opinions on this issue are mixed; some groups were uncomfortable with it, some were less concerned, while others were supportive.”

The regulator added that audiences expect broadcasters “who use politicians as presenters to take extra care to preserve due impartiality and suggest mitigations which could help alleviate concerns.”

Channel 4 unveiled its general election team earlier this week, with Prince Andrew interviewer Emily Maitlis presenting alongside Krishnan Guru-Murthy, while The Rest is Politics hosts Rory Stewart and Alastair Campbell will contribute.

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