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Five GB News programmes presented by Tory MPs broke impartiality rules, Ofcom says

Five episodes of GB News programmes presented by Tory MPs were found by Ofcom to have broken broadcasting rules.

Two episodes of Jacob Rees-Mogg’s State Of The Nation, two of Friday Morning With Esther And Phil, and one of Saturday Morning With Esther And Phil, broadcast during May and June 2023, broke due impartiality rules, Ofcom said.

It comes six months after the regulator found an episode of GB News’s The Live Desk, aired in July 2023, broke the same rules.

And earlier this month, the channel was rapped by Ofcom after it ruled misogynistic comments made by Laurence Fox on his show had broken broadcasting rules that protect “viewers from offensive content”.

Ofcom has warned that further breaches by GB News could result in a statutory sanction, which range from a direction not to reuse the content, to revoking a broadcaster’s licence.

Broadcasting code states that news, in whatever form, must be presented with due impartiality – and that a politician cannot be a newsreader, news interviewer or news reporter unless, exceptionally, there is editorial justification.

Jacob Rees-Mogg on GB News - two episodes of his programme ‘State of the Nation’ were found to have breached broadcasting rules (GB News)
Jacob Rees-Mogg on GB News - two episodes of his programme ‘State of the Nation’ were found to have breached broadcasting rules (GB News)

But following its investigation into the five GB News episodes, Ofcom said: “We found that host politicians acted as newsreaders, news interviewers or news reporters in sequences which clearly constituted news – including reporting breaking news events – without exceptional justification.

“News was, therefore, not presented with due impartiality.”

Ofcom said politicians played a “partial role in society”, and news content presented by them was “likely to be viewed by audiences in light of that perceived bias”.

“In our view, the use of politicians to present the news risks undermining the integrity and credibility of regulated broadcast news,” it added.

In response, GB News said it was “deeply concerned” by Ofcom’s ruling and will meet with the media watchdog to raise concerns.

The broadcaster added: “Ofcom is obliged by law to promote free speech and media plurality, and to ensure that alternative voices are heard. Its latest decisions, in some cases a year after the programme aired, contravene those duties.

“Extraordinarily, Ofcom has determined that a programme which it acknowledges was impartial and lacking in any expression of opinion, still somehow breaches its impartiality rules just because an imaginary viewer might think otherwise.”

The ruling came on the same day Extinction Rebellion targeted GB News’ main studio building in London with spray paint (Philip Toscano/PA Wire)
The ruling came on the same day Extinction Rebellion targeted GB News’ main studio building in London with spray paint (Philip Toscano/PA Wire)

Deputy Leader of the Liberal Democrats Daisy Cooper MP said: “This decision is long overdue.

“The regulator has to start imposing fines on broadcasters who dedicate endless hours to Conservative Party propaganda without proper balance. Britain has a proud history of balanced broadcasting.”

Below are the programmes that breached the due impartiality rules, and how:

Jacob Rees-Mogg’s State of the Nation - 9 May 2023, 8pm

Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg was used as a newsreader, and the news was not presented with due impartiality, said Ofcom, which received 40 complaints over it.

The programme covered a jury verdict that Donald Trump was liable for sexual abuse of a woman, but not rape, with Mr Rees-Mogg bringing updates from the case with background – which Ofcom said was him reporting on a breaking news story.

GB News had argued that the inclusion of the coverage did not make the programme news.

However, Ofcom ruled against GB News. The regulator said the programme did not qualify for exceptional justification as it was clear the verdict was due imminently and Sir Jacob had previously trailed the programme’s intention to bring the outcome.

Friday Morning with Esther and Phil - 12 May 2023, 10am

Tory MPs Esther McVey and Philip Davies were used as newsreaders and news interviewers, and the news was not presented with due impartiality, said Ofcom.

The investigation centred on the pair introducing two stories: railway strikes; and a legal claim by Prince Harry against Mirror Group.

Three episodes presented by Tory MPs Esther McVey and Philip Davies were found to have broken rules (GB News)
Three episodes presented by Tory MPs Esther McVey and Philip Davies were found to have broken rules (GB News)

GB News accepted that some of the content featured outside news bulletins read by a newsreader were recognisable as news. And it acknowledged that due to the likelihood of news stories breaking on a Friday morning, it was not an appropriate time for a programme presented by two politicians.

Saturday Morning with Esther and Phil - 13 May 2023, 10am

Ms McVey and Mr Davies were used as newsreaders and news interviewers, and the news was not presented with due impartiality, said Ofcom, which received two complaints.

The investigation looked at an interview conducted by the pair with London mayoral candidate for the Reform Party, Howard Cox, at the site of a demonstration against the expansion of London’s ULEZ.

Ms McVey said: “Howard’s top priority is to scrap ULEZ, so let’s go live to Orpington, where he is attending an anti-ULEZ protest rally. So we’ll say you are the voice of the motorist trying to scrap these ultra-low-emission zones.”

GB News said the interview segment was not news – however, Ofcom said Ms McVey’s introduction signalled it was a “developing news story”, with Mr Cox providing the latest information on the demonstration to the audience.

Jacob Rees-Mogg’s State of the Nation - 13 June, 8pm

Mr Rees-Mogg was used as a newsreader, and the news was not presented with due impartiality, said Ofcom, which received five complaints.

The investigation centred on a segment covering multiple killings in Nottingham city centre, for which Valdo Calocane was convicted of manslaughter.

It included a segment where Sir Jacob spoke to the channel’s home and security correspondent, who was in Nottingham covering the story.

Ofcom found that Sir Jacob was used as a newsreader and news interviewer during the programme.

Friday Morning with Esther and Phil - 23 June 2023, 10am

Ms McVey and Mr Davies were used as newsreaders and news interviewers, and the news was not presented with due impartiality, said Ofcom, which received two complaints.

During the two-hour show, the presenters read out a report on a five-day strike by junior doctors and a live report from the channel’s business and economics editor who was in Downing Street.

GB News accepted that the programme “had some elements that could also be found in news output, for instance a presenter talking to camera and discussing active stories with reporters and correspondents” – but it said there was no suggestion the programme lacked impartiality.

Ofcom found that Ms McVey and Mr Davies were used as newsreaders and news interviewers in reports that constituted news content, and the news was not presented with due impartiality.

A further episode did not warrant an investigation

A sixth programme looked at – a separate episode of Jacob Rees-Mogg’s State of the Nation – did not raise issues to warrant an investigation, Ofcom said.

This was because the clip, in which Sir Jacob acted as an eyewitness reporter from an unforeseen security incident at Buckingham Palace, was presented with what the regulator said was “exceptional editorial justification”.