GB news show breached impartiality rules, Ofcom says

MPs Philip Davies and Esther Mcvey <i>(Image: PA/Parliament handout)</i>
MPs Philip Davies and Esther Mcvey (Image: PA/Parliament handout)

An Ofcom investigation has concluded a GB News show presented by MPs Philip Davies and Esther McVey breached due impartiality rules.

Saturday Morning with Esther and Phil is a weekly two-hour discussion programme presented by the sitting Conservative MPs.

Ofcom received 45 complaints following an episode featuring a pre-recorded interview with Chancellor Jeremy Hunt MP on March 11, 2023.

The interview focused on the Government’s approach to economic and fiscal policies ahead of the Spring Budget, which was announced four days later.

Some viewers raised concerns that the programme had failed to preserve due impartiality.

Ofcom said: “The programme’s interview with the Chancellor and panel discussions which followed concerned the Government’s approach to a range of policy matters connected with the Spring Budget – a significant political event of national importance.

“The subjects discussed included personal and corporate tax, Government borrowing; the role of economic forecasting in budget setting; the cost-of-living crisis; and HS2. GB News accepted that the programme dealt with a matter of major political controversy and current public policy and that the special impartiality rules applied.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus:
Bradford Telegraph and Argus:

“Our investigation found, however, that in discussing these matters, the programme was overwhelmingly reflective of the viewpoints of different strands of opinion within the Conservative Party.”

Ofcom said it recognises broadcasters are free to decide the editorial approach of their programmes in line with the right to freedom of expression.

Ofcom added: “We also consider it essential for current affairs programmes to be able to discuss and analyse controversial matters and take a position on those issues. But in doing so, broadcasters must observe the rules set out in the Broadcasting Code.

“The Code is clear that when programmes are dealing with matters of major political controversy and current public policy, the heightened special impartiality requirements apply. Specifically, Rules 5.11 and 5.12 require that an appropriately wide range of significant views must be included and given due weight in such programmes, or in clearly linked and timely programmes.”

There were only very limited references to wider perspectives on UK economic and fiscal policy, Ofcom said, and no real attention was given anywhere in the programme to opposing political viewpoints to arguments put forward by the three Conservative politicians.

Ofcom said: “Having carefully considered the programme’s content and format, our investigation determined that there were three clearly separate and standalone news bulletins presented by a news anchor. The content presented on this day by Ms McVey and Mr Davies constituted current affairs. We therefore considered that Rule 5.3 of the Code, which relates to politicians presenting news programmes, was not engaged in this particular case.”

It is the third breach of our broadcasting rules recorded against GB News since it launched in June 2021.

GB News' response to Ofcom

In a statement, a spokesperson for GB News said: “We are disappointed by Ofcom’s ruling on our programme, Saturday Morning with Esther and Phil. We feel that the regulator’s definition of ‘due impartiality’ is imprecise.”

It added: “Ofcom’s finding also accepts that our programme included ‘reference to a wider range of views’ in its interview with Chancellor Jeremy Hunt ahead of his budget in March.

“These included opinions from independent journalist and commentator Michael Crick and SDP politician Patrick O’Flynn, who disagreed with Mr Hunt on several key points.

“Our programme featured a range of views from our audience, and from two business owners who offered different perspectives on how the issues would affect them. Our two presenters, both Conservative MPs, also challenged Mr Hunt.

“GB News chose to be regulated by Ofcom, and we are proud to play our part in bringing a wider range of opinion to Britain’s media landscape.

“We take compliance seriously, and we believe our programme embraced this. We will reflect on Ofcom’s view.”