GB News

Regulator says channel breached rules by failing to sufficiently challenge Rishi Sunak’s views in February broadcast

Mon 20 May 2024 06.31 EDT

Ofcom is considering a statutory sanction against GB News over “serious and repeated” breaches of British television laws relating to the channel’s lack of impartiality.

The media regulator said the channel breached regulations by allowing the Conservative prime minister, Rishi Sunak, to be interviewed on air without sufficient challenge to his views.

Ofcom, which has carried out 23 formal investigations amid 13 breaches of broadcast rules by GB News, accepted there was nothing wrong in principle with the format of the hour-long programme, broadcast in February, in which Sunak answered questions from 100 voters in County Durham.

However, GB News failed to challenge his arguments, provide alternative point of view, and generally failed to “ensure that an appropriately wide range of significant views”.

As a result, the prime minister had a “mostly uncontested platform to promote the policies and performance of his government in a period preceding a UK general election”.

Ofcom said it would begin its process for deciding the punishment for the channel, which could take up to two months, with the channel facing a fine over repeated breaches of impartiality rules.

Among other issues with the programme, Ofcom concluded:

  • Audience members were not able to challenge the prime minister’s responses and the presenter Stephen Dixon – a former Sky News host – did not push back to any “meaningful extent”.

  • The prime minister was able to set out future policies he planned to implement if re-elected. Neither the audience nor the presenter challenged or otherwise referred to significant alternative views on these.

  • Sunak criticised aspects of Labour’s policies and performance – but neither Labour’s views or positions on those issues were included in the programme.

  • GB News did not include a reference in the programme to an agreed future programme in which a wide range of significant views on the major matter would be given due weight.

GB News, which has challenged many of the longstanding norms around news broadcasting in the UK, has become a major headache for Ofcom, which has been accused of being asleep at the wheel.

The channel has pushed boundaries – and built a loyal and growing audience – by adopting an openly rightwing slant on the news agenda. It also employs serving Tory MPs as presenters and has complained that Ofcom is a vessel of the establishment intent on shutting down free speech.

GB News is part-owned by the hedge fund boss Paul Marshall, who is preparing a bid to buy the Daily Telegraph. He recently stepped down from his role as chair of GB News’s parent company but has been replaced by Lord Agnew – a former Tory minister and active Conservative member of the House of Lords.

Ofcom is also facing the challenge of Nigel Farage – who controls the Reform UK party but has said he does not intend to stand for election to parliament – presenting a nightly politics show during the general election.

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.”

GB News also called itself the “people’s channel” and the “independently selected group of undecided voters” questioned Sunak “robustly, intelligently, and freely”.

The channel said the Ofcom ruling was a “watershed moment that should terrify anyone who believes, as we do, that the media’s role is to give a voice to the people of the United Kingdom”.