GB News accuses Ofcom of trying to silence it after watchdog considers sanctions

GB News has accused Ofcom of trying to silence it after the regulator warned the TV channel that it was considering whether to impose a fine or revoke its licence.

The media watchdog ruled that the People’s Forum: The Prime Minister, which saw Rishi Sunak take questions from the audience during a live hour-long programme on February 12, broke broadcasting due impartiality rules.

Ofcom said on Monday the programme did not have an “appropriately wide range of significant viewpoints” and compliance by GB News was “wholly insufficient”.

The watchdog said it was starting the “process for consideration of a statutory sanction against GB News” following a “serious and repeated breach” of the rules.

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Ofcom said the episode received a total of 547 complaints (Yui Mok/PA)

A sanction could mean the channel being fined up to the maximum financial penalty of £250,000 or 5% of the broadcaster’s revenue, or having its licence shortened or revoked along with having to broadcast a correction or not to re-air the programme.

Ofcom said the episode received a total of 547 complaints and was “presented in the context of the forthcoming UK general election”, but there was “no issue with this programme’s editorial format in principle”.

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.”

The media watchdog also said: “We recognised that this programme would focus mainly on the Conservative Party’s policies and track record on a number of specific issues, meaning that Conservative viewpoints would be prevalent.

“We are clear that this, in and of itself, did not mean the programme could not comply with due impartiality rules under the code.

“It was incumbent on GB News, however, given the major matters under discussion, to ensure that an appropriately wide range of significant views was given due weight in the programme or in other clearly linked and timely programmes.”

Ofcom said GB News should have taken “additional steps to mitigate” risks because of the “very high compliance” needed.

“We consider that 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,” the media watchdog said.

“We have therefore recorded a breach of rules 5.11 and 5.12 of the Broadcasting Code against GB News.”

The rules state that “due impartiality must be preserved on matters of major political and industrial controversy”, and there should be “an appropriately wide range of significant views” included.

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

The channel also 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”.

“We maintain that the programme was in line with the Broadcasting Code,” GB News also said.

“Ofcom is obliged by law to uphold freedom of speech and not to interfere with the right of all news organisations to make their own editorial decisions within the law.”

Ofcom aims to finish its process within 60 working days and if the body takes a preliminary view on sanctions then GB News can make “written and oral representations”.

In March, GB News was placed on notice that any repeated breaches of due impartiality rules “may result in the imposition of a statutory sanction”.

This followed Ofcom saying that three Tory MPs – former House of Commons leader Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg, minister without portfolio Esther McVey and backbencher Philip Davies – “acted as newsreaders” across various programmes.

Former cabinet minister Sir Jacob used his GB News show on Monday to claim it was a “dark day for freedom of expression” following the decision on the People’s Forum broadcast, branding it “sinister” and “chilling”.

“This is a dark day for freedom of expression. It is time we had an equivalent of the United States First Amendment that protects freedom of speech from left-wing bureaucrats,” he said.

Ms McVey and Mr Davies, who are married, are no longer part of the GB News line-up and last hosted programmes on the channel last year.