Ofcom’s investigation, concluded today, has found that an episode of “Saturday Morning with Esther and Phil,” broadcasted on GB News on 11th March 2023, violated due impartiality regulations.
The show, hosted by Esther McVey and Philip Davies, both Conservative Party MPs, is a weekly two-hour discussion programme.
This specific episode featured a pre-recorded interview between the hosts and the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Jeremy Hunt MP. The discussion centred on the Government’s approach to economic and fiscal policies leading up to the Spring Budget, announced four days later.
Ofcom received 45 complaints from viewers who expressed concerns that the programme did not maintain due impartiality.
While acknowledging broadcasters’ right to determine their programmes’ editorial approach under the freedom of expression, Ofcom emphasises the importance of adhering to the rules outlined in the Broadcasting Code. This includes the allowance for innovative forms of debate and the necessity for current affairs programmes to address and analyse contentious issues, even taking a stance, but within the boundaries set by the Code.
The Code explicitly states that when programmes tackle major political controversies and current public policy matters, stricter impartiality standards are applicable. Specifically, Rules 5.11 and 5.12 necessitate the inclusion of a wide array of significant viewpoints, all given appropriate consideration in such programmes, or in related programmes that are clearly connected and timely.
The interview with the Chancellor and the subsequent panel discussions revolved around various policy aspects tied to the Spring Budget, a pivotal political event of national significance. Topics covered included personal and corporate taxation, government borrowing, the role of economic forecasts in budget formulation, the cost-of-living crisis, and HS2. GB News acknowledged that the programme addressed a topic of major political controversy and current public policy, and thus, the special impartiality rules were applicable.
An Ofcom spokesperson remarked, “Our investigation determined, however, that in discussing these matters, the programme predominantly represented the perspectives of different factions within the Conservative Party.”
“The programme only briefly touched on broader viewpoints on UK economic and fiscal policy concerning the upcoming budget. For example, the programme did not adequately address the perspectives of politicians, political parties, organisations, or individuals who, for instance, critiqued, opposed, or proposed alternative policies to those advocated by the three Conservative politicians.”
“Furthermore, there were no clear editorial connections made in this programme to any other content that might have presented these viewpoints.”
“Given that this programme featured two incumbent MP presenters from one political party interviewing the Chancellor from the same party regarding a subject of major political controversy and current public policy, we believe that, in these circumstances, GB News should have taken additional measures to ensure due impartiality was upheld.”
“Therefore, our investigation concluded that GB News failed to adequately represent and give due consideration to a sufficiently broad range of significant viewpoints on a topic of major political controversy and current public policy within this programme, thereby violating Rules 5.11 and 5.12.”
“After carefully evaluating the programme’s content and format, our investigation determined that three distinct and independent news bulletins were presented by a news anchor. The content presented by Ms McVey and Mr Davies on this day was considered current affairs. Consequently, we concluded that Rule 5.3 of the Code, which pertains to politicians hosting news programmes, did not apply in this specific instance.”
This marks the third instance of GB News breaching broadcasting regulations since its launch in June 2021.