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GB News ‘disappointed’ by Ofcom impartiality ruling against ‘Don’t Kill Cash’ campaign

Five further Ofcom investigations about the campaign are ongoing.

By Charlotte Tobitt

GB News said it was “disappointed” after Ofcom ruled it had broken due impartiality rules in a discussion about its “Don’t Kill Cash” campaign in a July programme.

The broadcast regulator said GB News had breached the Broadcasting Code with coverage of the campaign, which called for legislation protecting the status of cash until at least 2050 to help vulnerable people who still rely on it even as Britain is “fast becoming a cashless society”.

Ofcom said GB News is “free to explore issues such as the use of cash in society” but that it must meet due impartiality requirements while doing so.

Ofcom said: “We expect GB News to take careful account of this decision in its compliance of future programming.”

It added that five other investigations into GB News programmes relating to the Don’t Kill Cash campaign are ongoing and the outcome of those will be published “in due course”.

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The latest ruling comes under two months since Ofcom found a discussion about immigration policy between Martin Daubney and Richard Tice on GB News broke due impartiality rules and a further month after the channel was found to have breached the same part of the Broadcasting Code when two sitting Conservative MPs interviewed the chancellor days ahead of the Spring Budget.

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GB News reacts to Ofcom finding: Statement in full

GB News reported that Ofcom is facing a “furious reaction” for the latest decision. The broadcaster said in a statement: “We are disappointed by Ofcom’s ruling that our campaign to protect cash for society’s most financially vulnerable people was a breach of the Broadcasting Code. Ofcom has not censured other UK broadcasters, including Sky News and the BBC, for running their own campaigns in the past.

“Our Don’t Kill Cash petition received more than 300,000 signatures in what we believe was record speed for a media advocacy campaign.

“As journalists we believe it is our role to advocate for members of the community who are marginalised.

“Five million Britons risk being excluded from the financial system because they are, or do not have a smartphone, internet access, a bank account, or all of these.

“We disagree with Ofcom’s assertion that because the campaign was under the GB News banner, it represented the personal or self-interested view of anyone within the company. Nothing could be further from the truth.

“We maintain our campaign was not political and so did not consider it invoked due impartiality rules requiring substantially different views.

“The campaign received widespread support across the political spectrum.

“We noted that Ofcom took no issue with the BBC television and radio campaign to fundraise for the NHS nor the Sky News campaign to change the way general elections are debated.

“Ofcom repeatedly states that editorial decisions like these are matters for each broadcaster. We agree.

“We believe Ofcom has interpreted its rules extremely narrowly in this instance.

“Today’s ruling concludes only one of the six investigations Ofcom has launched into the Don’t Kill Cash campaign, which was covered in different programmes on different days.”

‘Serious, ongoing concerns about GB News’ compliance’

Between 3 July, when the campaign was launched, and 16 July, when GB News first responded to Ofcom about complaints that had been made, 40 programmes contained references to Don’t Kill Cash.

Ofcom expedited its first investigation after telling the broadcaster the campaign “appeared to raise serious, ongoing concerns about GB News’ compliance with the code”.

The Broadcasting Code states that programming “must exclude all expressions of the views and opinions of the person providing the service on matters of political and industrial controversy and matters relating to current public policy (unless that person is speaking in a legislative forum or in a court of law)”.

It adds: “Due impartiality on matters of political or industrial controversy and matters relating to current public policy must be preserved… This may be achieved within a programme or over a series of programmes taken as a whole.”

GB News argued the campaign was not about “matters of political and industrial controversy and matters relating to current public policy” but Ofcom disagreed, citing the Financial Services and Markets Bill which gained Royal Assent in June and the discussions around cash that resulted from its passage through Parliament.

The ruling relates specifically to an episode of The Live Desk, presented by Mark Longhurst and Pip Tomson, which aired at 12pm on 7 July. The discussion in question also involved GB News economics and business editor Liam Halligan.

The seven-minute segment invited viewers to “get involved” by signing a petition, which at that time had received 168,000 signatures, and featured a discussion about the downfalls of a cashless society.

Halligan suggested there are “powerful vested interests who want to shift us away from cash”. He later added: “This is responsible journalism in my view. We are trying to say to lawmakers there’s a problem here because there are people who are getting left behind – they can’t participate in society.”

GB News argued that “on this particular subject we do not believe there is a valid alternative perspective that requires scrutiny” and said it was an “uncontentious issue that every person in society understands instinctively”.

However Ofcom found the subject “was not uncontroversial; alternative views were available; and that, in order to maintain due impartiality in the programme, we would have expected some of these views to have been reflected in the programme in some form”.

It said the argument in favour of cash was mentioned in the programme only in a “very fleeting” way “as part of a chain of thought in favour of the launch of the campaign” and that this did not meet due impartiality requirements.

GB News argued that its company officers are chief executive Angelos Frangopoulos and chief operating officer Marc Shipper, and the people with editorial responsibility are Frangopoulos and editorial director Michael Booker, and that their personal views and opinions were not a motive behind the campaign.

The broadcaster said the campaign had begun after a conversation among members of staff about people being unable to use cash led to an on-air story that received a “substantial response” from viewers.

However Ofcom noted the campaign “was consistently referred to as having been organised and endorsed by GB News i.e. the Licensee and the service on which the statements were appearing”.

It added: “…the Licensee launched and heavily promoted a GB News-branded Campaign, in a coordinated manner across its schedule of broadcasts, to put pressure on Parliament to change the law. We therefore considered that the call to action could reasonably be considered to constitute a reflection of the viewpoint of the Licensee (i.e. GB News Ltd).

“Having assessed the available evidence and circumstances, we took the view that it was reasonable to consider that the Licensee and/or those with editorial responsibility for the service made a conscious decision to actively promote the Campaign and held the view that a law should be passed ‘to protect the status of cash as legal tender and as a widely accepted means of payment in the UK until at least 2050’.”

GB News also cited other broadcasters’ campaigns such as the Make Debates Happen drive on Sky News for general election leader debates and its Black Lives Matter/Kick it Out campaign. But Ofcom said it had investigated these and found they were different because the former involved the licensee giving its views and opinions relating to the provision of programme services, and the latter did not support any political aims.

Ofcom not ‘second guessing’ GB News editorial decision making

Ofcom’s ruling said: “To be clear, Ofcom is not ‘second guessing’ GB News’ editorial decision making or seeking to ‘substitute’ our judgement for that of the broadcaster. Our role is to examine the content as broadcast and assess whether due impartiality has been preserved in the programme.

“We have taken careful account of the broadcaster’s right to freedom of expression. However, this right is not absolute. While GB News is free to discuss matters relating to maintaining access to cash and whether to mandate its acceptance, this must be done in compliance with Section Five of the Code.

“The restrictions on the right to freedom of expression constituted by this section of the Code and Ofcom’s enforcement of it are with the aim of guarding against individuals or organisations using broadcasting platforms to unduly influence political discourse and democratic debate, and reflect statutory requirements put in place by Parliament.”

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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.
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