Ofcom Begins Procedure To Sanction GB News Over Rishi Sunak ‘People’s Forum’

Ofcom has begun the procedure to issue GB News with a sanction following a “serious and repeated” breach of its code over a People’s Forum show in which Prime Minister Rishi Sunak took questions from a live audience.

Ofcom has today said GB News once again failed to “preserve due impartiality,” a section of the regulator’s code that the right-leaning news network has repeatedly fallen foul of, with Sunak given a “mostly uncontested platform to promote the policies and performance of his government” in this instance.

More from Deadline

In The People’s Forum, Sunak was questioned by a live audience about the government’s policies and performance, in the context of the forthcoming UK general election.

The show almost immediately drew criticism for being one-sided and attracted more than 500 complaints to Ofcom.

“While some of the audience’s questions provided some challenge to, and criticism of, the government’s policies and performance, audience members were not able to challenge the Prime Minister’s responses and the presenter did not do this to any meaningful extent,” Ofcom said. “The Prime Minister was able to set out some future policies that his government planned to implement, if re-elected in the forthcoming UK General Election. Neither the audience or the presenter challenged or otherwise referred to significant alternative views on these”

Ofcom added that Sunak had criticized aspects of the opposition Labour Party’s views and yet Labour’s position was not “given due weight.” It said GB News failed in the program to include information about a future show that might provide alternative views.

Responding, GB News said it believed “very strongly” that the current affairs program had complied with the code. It felt that rules were engaged because of the “important matters of public policy that were discussed.” The People’s Forum is “a series of programmes designed with a straightforward purpose, to allow members of the public to put their own questions directly to leading politicians, starting with the Prime Minister, in a live broadcast,” it said.

Ofcom has now fired the starting gun on the the rare procedure to sanction GB News. Sanctions can include a direction not to repeat content, a direction to broadcast a correction or a statement of Ofcom’s findings, financial penalties or, in extreme cases, the revocation of a license. GB News will be given the opportunity to make representations over the sanction. Financial penalties have in the past run into the hundreds of thousands of pounds but are rare.

The news comes a few months after GB News was placed on notice by Ofcom after repeatedly breaching rules over the thorny issue of politicians acting as news presenters.

Ofcom has since published guidance on the issue, along with warnings over future general election coverage to all networks.

GB News has repeatedly fallen foul of the Ofcom code. It was also rapped in March over Laurence Fox’s highly misogynistic rant about a female journalist, which led to him being fired from the station and presenter Dan Wootton leaving. Ofcom summoned GB News to a meeting at its offices over this particular breach and is still investigating GB News for multiple other infringements of Ofcom’s code.

“An alarming development”

A GB News spokesman 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.

“We cannot fathom how Ofcom can claim this programme lacked the ‘appropriately wide range of significant views’ required to uphold due impartiality. It did not.”

Best of Deadline

Sign up for Deadline's Newsletter. For the latest news, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.