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Broadcasters threatened with fines over election programmes after GB News breaches

Jacob Rees-Mogg, the former Commons Leader, has his own show on GB News
Jacob Rees-Mogg, the former Commons Leader, has his own show on GB News

Ofcom has vowed to tighten its broadcasting rules during the general election after GB News repeatedly broke regulations by using politicians as presenters.

In a strongly worded warning to the TV industry, the regulator said it was putting news channels on notice that they must maintain the “highest editorial standards” ahead of an election.

It vowed to move “swiftly” to enforce the rules and threatened to issue fines for any breaches.

It comes after Ofcom last month found GB News in breach of broadcasting rules during five programmes presented by Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg, Esther McVey and Philip Davies.

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While politicians are allowed to present current affairs shows, they are not allowed to act as newsreaders or report on breaking news stories.

After conducting audience research, Ofcom said that while there were concerns about politicians presenting current affairs shows, there was “no clear consensus for an outright ban”.

Instead, the watchdog said it was updating its guidance to reinforce the rules. Broadcasters will also be subject to enhanced rules during the election period that ban candidates from presenting any kind of programme.

Cristina Nicolotti Squires, Ofcom’s head of broadcasting, said: “As we approach the local elections and edge ever nearer to a general election, we’re also sending a clear warning to broadcasters – and particularly those that use politicians as presenters – that nothing short of the highest standards of compliance with the heightened impartiality rules during this period will be acceptable.

“Should any broadcaster fall short, we’ll move swiftly to enforce those rules.”

Ofcom has come under scrutiny from media executives and analysts amid accusations it has not done enough to crack down on impartiality breaches by GB News.

While the regulator last month said it was putting the channel on notice following repeated breaches, it has yet to issue a fine.

Andrew Neil, who helped launch GB News before quitting after just three months, on Tuesday said the channel had become a hotbed of “bizarre conspiracy theories” at the “nutty end of politics”.

Speaking in front of peers on the Lords Communications and Digital Committee, the veteran broadcaster said he never would have allowed politicians to present shows and said Ofcom had to “find a backbone”.

GB News declined to respond to Mr Neil’s comments. It has previously said Ofcom’s rulings had a “chilling effect” on broadcasters and freedom of speech.