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Case update 17 April 2024

Ofcom backs down over GB News

Original image: Erik Mclean / Unsplash

Under threat of legal action, Ofcom has abandoned a two-tier approach to impartiality touted by its CEO. But inaction on broadcasting bias remains deeply concerning.

Back in March, Ofcom CEO Melanie Dawes said of due impartiality, “The standard for someone like the BBC… is a different one from that of a channel that has an audience of maybe four or five per cent of the viewing public. We expect different things. And I think that’s appropriate.”

A two-tier approach would breach not only Ofcom’s Broadcasting Code but also the Communications Act 2003, making it unlawful. However, it could explain why rightwing broadcaster GB News – which has a smaller audience – keeps getting away with breaking the rules.

To get to the bottom of this, we joined forces with media expert Professor Julian Petley to challenge Ofcom on its two-tier approach to impartiality.

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And now, under threat of legal action, Ofcom has abandoned its position. The regulator responded saying its CEO’s remarks were “informal” and that “the same rules and assessment process apply to all broadcasters”.

No two-tier approach then.

So why has GB News – which offers a platform for a host of rightwing MPs including Jacob Rees-Mogg and Lee Anderson – still never faced a formal sanction?

Bias in broadcasting has dire consequences for our democracy. So there should be real consequences for broadcasting bias. In the words of Ofcom chair Michael Grade, “We… don’t want our broadcasters being owned and run for political reasons.”

We’re taking legal advice and exploring options for further action.