Ofcom has decided not to investigate Channel 4 News over accusations of “left-wing bias” in its reporting of allegations of a “toxic culture” within the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) led by chair Baroness Falkner.
The broadcast regulator received 19 complaints, including one signed by 54 cross-bench members of the House of Lords, over a report led by investigations editor Cathy Newman that aired on 23 May. But it ruled that the programme was duly impartial and contained reporting on a “legitimate matter of public interest”.
Newman reported that Falkner was under investigation over complaints about alleged discriminatory conduct, and presented what was introduced in the programme as “concerning evidence of a toxic culture inside the Commission with claims of bullying, harassment and discrimination, along with a wave of resignations”.
One of the complaints reported was that Falkner allegedly referred to a trans woman “in disparaging terms as ‘a bloke in lipstick’” at a board meeting – although her allies have since said this remark was taken out of context and was intended to explain the prejudice facing trans people – and the programme heard from an anonymised staff member saying the Commission was not taking “an impartial or objective approach to the issue of trans rights”.
Channel 4 News was subsequently accused of “left-wing bias” and taking a stance of “guilty before proven innocent”, while the 54 peers who jointly complained called the report “unbalanced and prejudiced”.
Ofcom summarised the accusations as the programme having displayed bias in its account of complaints made against Falkner in its allegations that the EHRC was not acting independently of the government and in its coverage of the proposed changes to the Equality Act 2010 that would define people’s sex as their biological sex at birth.
The broadcaster said in the aftermath that it stood by its reporting.
Ofcom has now announced that it has decided not to formally investigate the programme and said it had unusually published its reasoning why because it “involved matters of public interest relating to the issue of due impartiality in news”.
Assessing the complaints under the due impartiality section of the Broadcasting Code, Ofcom found the programme had included enough “alternative perspectives” on events: the programme featured several statements from the EHRC, a statement from Baroness Falkner, and presenters outlining the views of both Baroness Falkner’s supporters and women’s groups who are supportive of proposed changes to the Equality Act 2010.
Ofcom continued: “We also had regard to the likely expectation of the audience of the programme. We considered that they would expect a news report on this issue to: provide a range of perspectives; to give Baroness Falkner and the EHRC an opportunity to respond to the claims made in the programme; and to accurately report the current status of the independent investigation into the allegations made against them.
“We also took into consideration the broadcaster’s and audience’s rights to freedom of expression. It is an editorial matter for the broadcaster to choose which stories they include in a news programme, and we considered it was a legitimate matter of public interest for Channel 4 News to include a report on allegations made by former staff members of the EHRC, provided that the report was presented with due impartiality and was compliant with the Code.”
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