UK media watchdog to investigate GB News over Sunak Q&A

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Ofcom is investigating whether an hour long Q&A with Prime Minister Rishi Sunak aired on GB News has breached UK broadcasting rules. 

The media watchdog on Monday said the show, People’s Forum: The Prime Minister, received about 500 complaints after it was broadcast last week, and that it would look into whether the programme was in line with impartiality requirements.

In its statement, it said shows dealing with matters of political controversy and public policy must include an “appropriately wide range of significant views”.

The probe takes the number of open investigations into right-leaning broadcaster GB News to 13. The channel’s use of serving Conservative politicians as presenters has prompted criticism given the need for broadcasters’ to provide balanced viewpoints when showing news.   

Two programmes presented by former business secretary Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg are currently being investigated, along with others presented by former pensions minister Esther McVey and backbencher Philip Davies over potential breaches of impartiality standards. Outspoken former Conservative deputy chair Lee Anderson also works as a presenter for the channel.

GB News did not respond to a request for comment. Downing Street said Sunak would not apologise for taking part in the Q&A.

The prime minister’s allies believe the debate went well and that Sunak should take part in more live discussions ahead of the next general election. GB News is expected to become a channel used more often by the party to raise its visibility.

During the show, Sunak was quizzed by an audience in County Durham about policies including immigration, the NHS and his views on Covid-19 vaccines. GB News has also invited Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer to host a similar discussion.

The broadcasting watchdog has been criticised by some media commentators for not taking stronger action against channels such as GB News, which is testing the boundaries of existing rules concerning news and current affairs. To date, breaches of its code have led to warnings rather than financial sanctions.

This month, GB News presenter Neil Oliver was cleared by Ofcom after complaints over his views on conspiracy theories around the existence of so-called “turbo cancer” linked to Covid-19 vaccines. The regulator said the comments were in line with freedom of expression of a personal view.

Ofcom chair Michael Grade last year told the Financial Times that GB News’ use of politicians as presenters was “innovative”, and said that Ofcom should not dictate “who can and can’t present shows — its freedom of expression”.

The People’s Forum was one of the most watched programmes this year for the channel, which is co-owned by hedge fund manager Paul Marshall, with more than 5mn views online.

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