GB News faces possible fine over Rishi Sunak Q&A programme, says regulator

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Ofcom is considering sanctioning the broadcaster GB News after a Q&A it aired with UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak was found to have breached impartiality rules.

The media regulator said on Monday that it had started a process which could result in the right-leaning channel being fined for the first time, as The People’s Forum: The Prime Minister show represented a “serious and repeated breach” of its code.

Ofcom received 547 complaints about the live programme, broadcast in February, during which Sunak took part in an hour-long question-and-answer session with a studio audience about government policies and performance.

The regulator said that in light of GB News’s past failure to preserve due impartiality it had started the process to impose a statutory sanction.

Sanctions could include a fine against the lossmaking channel, which has needed to raise fresh funds this year from its wealthy backers. In most cases, the maximum financial penalty is £250,000 or 5 per cent of the broadcaster’s “qualifying revenue”, whichever is the greater. 

Ofcom found GB News had given the prime minister a “mostly uncontested platform” to promote the policies and performance of his government in a period preceding a UK general election.

It added that an “appropriately wide range of significant viewpoints were not presented and given due weight”.

Ofcom said Sunak had also attacked Labour’s policies and performance, but the party’s views and positions were not included in the programme. GB News has invited Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer to host a similar discussion. 

GB News said in a statement that this was “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 platform, which is backed by hedge fund boss Paul Marshall, has been found in breach of Ofcom’s rules 13 times since it launched in 2021, with a further seven investigations still open. 

The channel has shaken up UK broadcasting, in part by hiring politicians as presenters, using new formats and testing the boundaries of Ofcom’s rules.

However, the channel has prompted a backlash from critics who argue it gives a platform almost exclusively to rightwing politicians from the Conservative and Reform parties.

Presenters from the Conservative party include former business secretary Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg, Cabinet Office minister and “common sense tsar” Esther McVey, and her husband backbencher Sir Philip Davies — who have all been found to have breached Ofcom rules.

Former Conservative deputy chair Lee Anderson, who recently defected to the Reform party, also works as a presenter for the channel.

In its statement, GB News said the prime minister was also criticised on air over underfunding social care, housing shortages, 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.

It added: “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.”


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