In a piece for Spiked, Professor Andrew Tettenborn discusses how the controversies surrounding GB News serve as a prime example of Ofcom’s increasing overreach. Here’s an excerpt:
Set up as a super-ministry by Tony Blair in 2003, Ofcom assumed responsibility for two areas: boringly technical matters, such as allocating radio frequencies; and dealing with complaints about material appearing on radio and TV, which includes ensuring that all news is presented with ‘due impartiality’ and that all programming avoids ‘harmful and / or offensive material’. Ofcom has performed this latter function with increasing zeal. It intervened, for example, in 2020 to make sure no one strayed too far from the accepted line on Covid. And a year earlier it penalised broadcaster James Whale for expressing views on air that were entirely lawful, but nevertheless seen as insensitive, when discussing a case of sexual assault.
More recently, GB News has rarely been out of Ofcom’s sights. A couple of weeks ago, it was rapped over the knuckles for breaching impartiality rules, after two Tory MPs interviewed the Tory chancellor in March about Government splits on economic policy. There are five more impartiality investigations in the pipeline, including one into Tory MP Jacob Rees-Mogg being allowed to present a current-affairs programme and another into the station’s ‘Don’t Kill Cash’ campaign.
This hyperactive interventionism should worry us. For one thing, it gives complainants with an axe to grind far too much power. For a broadcaster to answer a complaint, even an unjustified one, takes money and a great deal of time. And any station knows that close co-operation with Ofcom, from whom its licence comes, is a commercial necessity. …
At present, Ofcom is riding high. Under the Online Safety Bill, now assured of passage into law, it is also set to take over looking after large swathes of the internet (itself a frightening prospect). This is entirely the wrong direction of travel.
Worth reading in full.