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One in ten complaints to Ofcom in 2023 were about Israel/Gaza coverage

GB News had the most-complained about TV programme of 2023.

By Charlotte Tobitt

Almost one in ten of all complaints sent to broadcast regulator Ofcom in 2023 were about coverage of the conflict in Israel and Gaza which began in October.

This figure does not include any complaints about BBC coverage, which must go direct to the broadcaster at first and only get escalated to Ofcom if further investigation is needed. The BBC has faced numerous complaints of its own, including over its choice not to label Hamas as terrorists without attribution and its initial attribution of a hospital blast in Gaza to an Israel airstrike.

Ofcom said it is prioritising complaints about Israel and Gaza coverage to ensure it can uphold standards of both due impartiality and due accuracy.

Two episodes of Breakfast with Kay Burley on Sky News relating to the conflict appeared in Ofcom’s list of the ten most-complained about programmes in 2023.

The first saw Burley ask Israeli spokesperson Eylon Levy whether Israel does “not think that Palestinian lives are valued as highly as Israeli lives” because 50 Israeli hostages were being released in exchange for 150 Palestinian prisoners. She said this suggestion had come from a hostage negotiator she had previously interviewed.

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Levy shared the clip on X/Twitter, noting his surprised expression by saying: “The first question that left me speechless…”

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Burley said on X the following morning: “We often put one side of an argument to a guest so they can offer a counterclaim. Yesterday, I raised a controversial view from an earlier guest to allow another to respond. Each morning we’re dedicated to presenting fairly the news of this war.”

This programme, which received 1,880 complaints, is not being investigated by Ofcom.

The regulator said: “Taking account of Mr Levy’s forceful challenge to the premise of the question about the value of Israeli versus Palestinian lives, and the context of the wider discussion about the terms of the temporary ceasefire, we will not be pursuing further.”

Ofcom is still assessing complaints about another of Burley’s programmes, in which she was accused of misrepresenting comments by the Palestinian ambassador by telling another guest he had “basically said, the last couple of days, that ‘Israel had it coming’”. That exchange received 1,640 complaints.

Also relating to the war, the third most-complained about programme of the year was Good Morning Britain on 17 October when presenter Richard Madeley asked Lib Dem MP Layla Moran, who has extended family in Gaza, whether there was any indication of what would happen ahead of the 7 October attack by Hamas.

He said: “With your family connections in Gaza, did you have any indication of what was going to happen ten days ago, two weeks ago? Was there there any word on the street?”

Moran later accepted an apology from Madeley and said: “I didn’t feel and don’t feel that it came from a place of malice. I think it, frankly, came from a place of, perhaps, ignorance.

“Perhaps it reminds us that in this conflict, which is complicated – this is not the slam dunk in a way that Russia-Ukraine was – this has a long history that needs to be understood and this has an important context in the wider region that needs to be understood.”

Ofcom has decided not to launch a formal investigation. It said: “We considered his live, unscripted remarks were potentially offensive.

“However, taking the entire interview into account, and in particular a preceding discussion about Hamas using civilians as human shields, we considered the question sought to explore whether civilians were aware of a potential escalation in hostilities, rather than suggesting that Ms Moran or her family were aware of specific plans for the Hamas attack on 7 October 2023.

“In her response, Ms Moran spoke about her surprise at the scale and sophistication of the attack. In light of this, we will not be pursuing further.”

Despite the dominance of the Israel-Gaza conflict, the most-complained about programme overall in 2023 was the episode of Dan Wootton Tonight in which Laurence Fox made misogynistic comments about female journalist Ava Evans of Joe.co.uk.

The programme and its backlash resulted in Fox being fired from the channel and Wootton, who appeared to laugh while the comments were being made, being suspended. An Ofcom investigation into whether the discussion broke its rules on offence is ongoing.

GB News was found to be in breach of Ofcom’s Broadcasting Code five times overall – three times in relation to due impartiality and twice because of its rules that “protect audiences from harm”.

In total Ofcom received 69,236 complaints about 9,638 cases, nearly twice as many complaints as in 2022, nearly a quarter of the 2023 total was made up by the two most complained-about programmes.

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Select and enter your email address Weekly insight into the big strategic issues affecting the future of the news industry. Essential reading for media leaders every Thursday. Your morning brew of news about the world of news from Press Gazette and elsewhere in the media. Sent at around 10am UK time. Our weekly does of strategic insight about the future of news media aimed at US readers. A fortnightly update from the front-line of news and advertising. Aimed at marketers and those involved in the advertising industry.
  • Business owner/co-owner
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  • CFO
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  • Senior Executive/SVP or Corporate VP or equivalent
  • Director or equivalent
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