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Ofcom considering sanction against GB News over Rishi Sunak debate programme

Ofcom considering sanction against GB News over Rishi Sunak debate programme
© GB News
Ofcom finds GB News in breach of broadcasting rules over an audience Q&A programme with Rishi Sunak.

Broadcasting regulator Ofcom is considering a sanction against GB News following a programme featuring Prime Minister Rishi Sunak earlier this year.

In February the upstart news channel broadcast a live one-hour show called The People's Forum which saw an audience made up of members of the public pose their questions to the PM.

The audience was selected independently, the broadcaster said, and neither Sunak or the GB News team - including moderator Stephen Dixon - were aware in advance of which questions would be asked.

Ofcom said that it had received 547 complaints about the show, primarily with concerns over a lack of balance, although GB News maintained that it had held talks with the Labour Party about an equivalent future show with their leader Sir Keir Starmer.

Nevertheless, Ofcom found the channel in breach of two rules of the broadcasting code and is now considering whether to impose a sanction, which could include a fine, or at the most serious end, a licence revocation.

In its summary, the regulator said: "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.

"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."

It added: "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.

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

In response, 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.

"GB News is the People's Channel. That is why we created a new broadcasting format, The People's Forum, which placed the public - not journalists - firmly in charge of questioning Rishi Sunak.

"Our live programme gave an independently selected group of undecided voters the freedom to challenge the Prime Minister without interference.

"They did this robustly, intelligently, and freely. Their 15 questions, which neither we nor the Prime Minister saw beforehand, kept him under constant pressure and covered a clearly diverse range of topics. These were their words on the issues that mattered to them.

"Among many other challenges, the Prime Minister was criticised over the 'chronic underfunding' of social care, the housing shortage, the likely failure of his government's Rwanda plan, the betrayal of those injured by the Covid vaccine, and asked why the LGBT community should vote for him.

"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.

"We maintain that the programme was in line with the Broadcasting Code.

"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.

"Its finding today is 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, especially those who all too often feel unheard or ignored by their politicians.

"We are proud to be the People's Channel and we will never stop fighting for the right of everyone in the UK, whatever their political persuasion, to have their perspective heard."

GB News has a further seven Ofcom investigations open and pending a ruling.

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