12 November 2023

Ofcom chairman: Our job is not to stop broadcasters from employing politicians

12 November 2023

The job of Ofcom is not to tell broadcasters who to employ, including politicians, the media regulator’s chairman has said.

A host of politicians including former cabinet minister Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg and current Conservative deputy chairman Lee Anderson host current affairs programmes on GB News.

Ofcom chief Baron Michael Grade was asked on BBC One’s Sunday With Laura Kuenssberg show about GB News having four Conservative politicians on the channel and former prime minister Boris Johnson joining the ranks.

Lord Grade said rules around impartiality, fairness, accuracy are the same for GB News as for other broadcasters including the BBC.

Former pensions minister Esther McVey and backbencher Philip Davies are also presenters on GB News and former culture secretary Nadine Dorries began hosting a programme on TalkTV before she quit as an MP.

Labour’s shadow foreign secretary David Lammy also hosts a show on LBC.

Asked if he worries about increased polarisation, Lord Grade said: “I have worries about freedom of speech and freedom of expression on the airwaves, that’s what concerns Ofcom.”

He defended rules which he said had “stood us (Ofcom) in very good stead”.

We want to see a plurality of choice and freedom of expression on the airwaves

Lord Grade added: “They (the rules) have increased the range of choice in news outlets and current affairs.

“It calls itself GB News but it’s more of a current affairs (channel)… there are political chat shows that go on BBC News, which is a kind of new format.

“We want to see a plurality of choice and freedom of expression on the airwaves.

“We don’t want to be in the business of telling broadcasters, licensees, who they can employ, who they can’t employ.

“There are rules about elections and politicians at election time, there are very strong, clear rules, but that’s not our job.

“Our job is to ensure… within the rules of due impartiality that there is plenty of choice and freedom of expression on the airwaves.

“That means some people will always be offended by stuff, but there’s no rule that says you can’t be offended.”

Lord Grade also said he has to “be careful” when speaking about GB News as Ofcom has 14 investigations open into the channel.

Among the current probes is a look into remarks made by actor-turned-politician Laurence Fox on the Dan Wootton Tonight programme on September 26.

In a series of personal comments about political correspondent Ava Evans, Reclaim Party leader Fox asked: “Who would want to shag that?”

Fox and Dan Wootton apologised, and the former, who also hosted a programme on the channel, was sacked.

An internal investigation into Wootton, who was suspended, was announced by GB News in September.

An interview by married presenters and serving MPs Ms McVey and Mr Davies, with Chancellor Jeremy Hunt, was found to have breached impartiality rules.

Sir Jacob’s show is under investigation for allegedly twice breaching the “politicians as presenters” rule which means “no politician may be used as a newsreader, interviewer or reporter in any news programmes unless, exceptionally, it is editorially justified”.

The best videos delivered daily

Watch the stories that matter, right from your inbox