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TV channel GB News breached impartiality rules by airing an interview with UK chancellor Jeremy Hunt that was conducted by two other Conservative MPs, according to the country’s media watchdog.
Ofcom said on Monday that the network, backed by hedge fund boss Paul Marshall and known for hiring right-leaning politicians and commentators as hosts, had broken broadcasting rules for the third time since it launched in June 2021.
The decision reflects growing concern over media impartiality in view of the rising trend for politicians to present news and current affairs programmes, with Ofcom probing separate allegations of breaches by GB News and Talk TV, which is owned by Rupert Murdoch.
In its ruling, the watchdog found that a programme presented in March by married couple Esther McVey and Philip Davies, two sitting Tory MPs, was “overwhelmingly reflective” of opinion within their party.
The show featured a pre-recorded interview between the two presenters and Hunt, focused on the government’s approach to economic and fiscal policies ahead of the Spring Budget.
However, given the show was deemed current affairs rather than news, Ofcom said GB News had not breached rules over politicians acting as presenters. The regulator received 45 complaints from viewers who raised concerns over due impartiality.
Ofcom is investigating GB News over six further potential breaches of impartiality. The cases include other programmes presented by McVey and Davies, as well as two anchored by former Tory cabinet minister Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg.
Under UK rules, broadcasters are free to decide the editorial approach of their programmes, and to discuss and analyse controversial matters and take a position on those issues.
However, over issues of political controversy and public policy, a wide range of significant views must be included and given due weight.
Ofcom found the programme presented by McVey and Davies in March featured only “very limited” references to wider perspectives on UK economic and fiscal policy. But it did not consider that the breaches were sufficiently serious, or were repeated, deliberate or reckless, to warrant the imposition of a statutory sanction.
The regulator is close to finalising research to gauge current audience attitudes towards programmes that feature politicians as presenters.
GB News said it was “disappointed” by Ofcom’s ruling, adding: “We feel that the regulator’s definition of ‘due impartiality’ is imprecise. We take compliance seriously, and we believe our programme embraced this.”
GB News chief executive Angelos Frangopoulos told the Financial Times this year that he wanted to make the network the “mainstream” choice for news, and rejected claims that it was rightwing.
The lossmaking media group has struggled to attract advertising and was hit by a campaign to encourage an advertiser boycott when it launched — a move that supporters in the Conservative party have claimed discriminates between consumers on the basis of their political views.
In May, Ofcom censured GB News for airing claims by Naomi Wolf that the rollout of the Covid-19 vaccine amounted to “mass murder”.