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Ofcom considers statutory GB News sanctions over Sunak’s uncontested prime-time Darlington election slot

Ofcom is considering a statutory sanction against GB News, after the channel was again found to have broken due impartiality rules.

The broadcast regulator announced in February it was investigating a Q&A session which saw Prime Minister Rishi Sunak take questions from members of the public who had voted Conservative in 2019 at a televised forum in Darlington.

On Monday, Ofcom said it had concluded the programme, called People’s Forum: The Prime Minister, broke its broadcasting rules.

“Given this represents a serious and repeated breach of these rules, we are now starting the process for consideration of a statutory sanction against GB News,” Ofcom said.

GB News has responded by telling its viewers not to be “silenced,” and urging them to sign up for a paid subscription: “don’t let them silence you – GB News is under threat – support us here,” it said in a rallying call on its website.

It added: “The upcoming general election will be decided by the people of Britain, not journalists, not Ofcom regulators, but ordinary people.

“That is why GB News decided to host a People’s Forum with Rishi Sunak earlier this year, to allow citizens a chance to directly challenge and interrogate their Prime Minister.”

The broadcast regulator said the episode received a total of 547 complaints and was “presented in the context of the forthcoming UK general election.”

Ofcom had “no issue with this programme’s editorial format in principle”, it said in its ruling.

“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.”

The regulator noted the Labour Party’s positions and views were not included, and nor was there a reference to any future programme where they would be.

Ofcom concluded: “We found that an appropriately wide range of significant viewpoints was not presented and given due weight in this case.

“As a result, Rishi Sunak had a mostly uncontested platform to promote the policies and performance of his government in a period preceding a UK general election.”

The prime minister has said there will be a general election in the second half of 2024.

According to its website, Ofcom’s sanctions could see the broadcast regulator:

  • impose a financial penalty
  • shorten its licence
  • revoke its licence
  • issue a direction not to repeat a programme
  • issue a direction to broadcast a correction or a statement of Ofcom’s finding

The broadcast regulator has found GB News in breach of its rules 12 times since it launched in 2021.

There are seven further investigations still outstanding, including one into a programme hosted by former presenter Dan Wootton in relation to fairness and privacy rules, an episode of Nigel Farage’s show for due impartiality and programmes including Breakfast with Eamonn [Holmes] and Isabel [Webster], which is are being investigated under rules about due impartiality and broadcaster views/opinions.

In March, Ofcom told the channel it was “on notice” over future breaches.

The regulator warned repeated contraventions of the relevant part of its code could lead to a sanction.

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