19 March 2024

Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg criticises Ofcom ruling on politicians being newsreaders

19 March 2024

Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg has criticised a ruling from the broadcasting regulatory body Ofcom that found two episodes of his show on GB News violated due impartiality rules due to him “acting as a newsreader” while being a serving politician.

The channel was put on notice on Monday, with the media watchdog saying that any repeated breaches of the same rules “may result in the imposition of a statutory sanction”.

This could involve a financial penalty or having its broadcasting licence revoked or shortened.

Ofcom’s ruling was over five episodes presented by three Tory MPs including Sir Jacob, and married couple Esther McVey, currently a minister without portfolio, and Philip Davies, a backbencher.

Ms McVey and Mr Davies no longer front a show together and last presented on GB News last year.

Sir Jacob was classified as having breached the broadcasting rules by Ofcom as he provided an update about the fatal stabbings in Nottingham on June 13, which took place on the same day.

The watchdog says this means he “presented” a news story directly to viewers after the programme received five complaints.

Defending himself against the ruling, Sir Jacob told Times Radio: “It is a barmy decision from Ofcom.

“I was talking about a stabbing – how can there be due impartiality? We know stabbing is bad. Would they get the stabber on there to argue why it wasn’t bad? It is an eccentric decision.”

He also said Channel 4 News is “left-wing” and suggested that Ofcom applies its rules on due impartiality to some broadcasters, but not to others.

In another episode of his hour-long programme Jacob Rees-Mogg’s State Of The Nation, on May 9, Ofcom said it “contained both news and current affairs and therefore was a news and current affairs programme” and investigated after receiving 40 complaints.

Ofcom ruled that he was clearly delivering “news” and reporting a “breaking” story while providing information on a civil trial about former US president Donald Trump.

The watchdog also said: “It was immaterial that the story did not concern UK politics.”

Elsewhere, Culture Secretary Lucy Frazer would not be drawn on whether she disagreed with the regulator’s decision that the channel broke broadcasting rules on due impartiality, telling GB News it was a “question” for the media watchdog.

Asked for her views on the GB News ruling, Ms Frazer said: “I think GB News does a fantastic job. I’m in favour of media plurality.

“I think you have a lot of viewers who are interested in the output that you have, as indeed other channels have as well.”

On whether she agrees with the ruling, Ms Frazer said: “I think there were two decisions that Ofcom came to in relation to GB News. One was in relation to impartiality, and that’s a question for them – they are the regulator.

“And the other was whether there was a breach of the broadcasting code, because the broadcasting code says that a sitting MP cannot present news as in live news that is happening, but they can present current affairs programmes.”

Ofcom’s findings also concerned three instalments of Friday Morning With Esther And Philip and Saturday Morning With Esther And Philip in May and June 2023.

The watchdog objected to them talking about the junior doctor’s strike, described by Ofcom as a “breaking news story”, and interviewing a political figure about a protest on the day of the event as well as live events like rail strikes and the Duke of Sussex’s court case.

GB News said that it is “deeply concerned” by Ofcom’s ruling and will meet with the media watchdog to raise concerns about the “chilling development”.

It also claimed that Ofcom has “arbitrarily changed the test” and said in a statement that it is committed to having politicians as presenters on the channel.

Ofcom has said: “Politicians have an inherently partial role in society and news content presented by them is likely to be viewed by audiences in light of that perceived bias.

“In our view, the use of politicians to present the news risks undermining the integrity and credibility of regulated broadcast news.”

GB News has been found to have been in breach by Ofcom 11 times, including when Ms McVey and Mr Davies interviewed Conservative MP and Chancellor Jeremy Hunt about the Budget in a pre-recorded programme, which aired on March 11 2023.

There are eight open investigations into its programmes currently.

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