Fox News Stops Airing in U.K.: A Look at Ofcom Rulings Against It

Fox News H 2016
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Fox says the news channel didn't draw a big enough audience in the country, but it has provided critics with fodder for complaints and headlines.

With 21st Century Fox pulling the plug on Fox News in the U.K., where pay TV giant Sky had been carrying its U.S. version for more than a decade, the network once again made headlines Tuesday.

It was a familiar sight as analysts said Fox News in recent years often attracted attention from media and critics of the Murdoch family, which controls Fox, in Britain despite its small TV audiences in the country.

U.K. media regulator Ofcom has in recent years criticized Fox News for breaching the British TV code several times.

That was why some observers wondered if Fox's bid to buy the 61 percent stake in pay TV giant Sky that it doesn't already own also played into the decision to shutter the Fox News U.K. feed. After all, the U.K. government is expected to announce the next step in the review of the deal within two weeks.

"Timing of the announcement is, of course, the interesting feature," Enders Analysis analyst Toby Syfret tells THR, highlighting that Fox, of course, said the decision to end the U.K. feed of Fox News was purely a business decision. "However much 21st Century Fox (or the Murdochs) may play down the issue and insist the decision has nothing to do with the takeover bid, friends, the detached and critics alike cannot but make the connection. But the decision does make sense from a commercial perspective."

Asked what it means for the Sky deal, Syfret says: "It cannot harm the bid — indeed, [it] may help a little — from the regulatory perspective regarding the question of broadcasting standards; though I cannot see it affecting the plurality issue and related competition concerns."

Here is a look at a few cases, in which Ofcom criticized Fox News for falling short of the U.K. TV code. 

Muslims in Birmingham
Comments made by a pundit on Fox News in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attack in early 2015 were met with ridicule on social media and led to complaints, which the regulator investigated. Ofcom ended up rapping the network for what it called a "serious breach" of the British TV code.

Terrorism expert Steve Emerson had told Justice With Judge Jeanine host Jeanine Pirro that the British city of Birmingham was "totally Muslim," calling it a place "where non-Muslims just simply don't go in."

Even then-Prime Minister David Cameron got involved, saying that Emerson was "clearly an idiot." Fox News apologized days later for the "serious factual error," while Emerson himself later acknowledged that he had made a "terrible error."

Ofcom found Fox News to be in "serious breach for a current affairs program," saying it had "presented the audience with materially misleading facts."

Brexit Coverage
The June 2016 vote on whether Britain should remain in the European Union or leave it was a sensitive topic for TV news operations in the U.K. 

Ofcom found that Fox News fell afoul of U.K. TV rules on the day of the referendum when it aired pro-Brexit views on business and finance flagship show Your World With Neil Cavuto. Under U.K. rules, networks are not allowed to talk about or analyze election and referendum issues during the time polls are open for voting. The polls were open 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. London time that day, and the show aired at 9 p.m.

"I mean we are governed by a bunch of bureaucrats that don't speak English in a funny place called the Hague, which makes no sense at all, and it tells Britain what to do, it takes British money, it doesn't send much of if it back — it's a very unfair one-way street when you begin to dig into it," one commentator said on the show. It also suggested that U.K. public broadcaster BBC was like a "running ad for remain [voters]."

Ofcom investigated complaints from viewers and ruled that the network's show breached rules on to the "discussion and analysis of election and referendum issues" on polling day. Fox News argued that the show did not "advocate a particular position on the vote," but simply "presented a summary of the positions others are advocating as to whether the U.K. should remain an EU member."

But Ofcom said: "Following a careful investigation, we found that Fox News breached broadcasting rules by showing a discussion about the EU referendum while the polls were open on the day of the referendum."

Trump Bias?
During routine monitoring of networks, the U.K. regulator found bias in Fox News' U.S. presidential election coverage in the summer of 2016, citing three August episodes of Sean Hannity’s HannityFox News denied being pro-Republican and pro-Donald Trump, but Ofcom ruled that the flagship show didn't offer Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton's perspective with "due weight."

Ofcom emphasized that Britain's guidelines for "due impartiality" don’t require shows to give equal time for different views, but they do require "adequate or appropriate" time. OfCom flagged the problems "during routine monitoring" of broadcasts.

It said that three episodes of the show "included a number of highly critical statements" about Clinton, including Trump calling her refugee plan "insane" and a claims that she was "the queen of corruption" and "reckless and crooked." And Ofcom said that the episodes included "various statements that could be described as supporting the policies of Donald Trump," including Hannity listing positive things Trump would do if elected.

Fox News said the content was part of its "analysis of and commentary on domestic and international news and political developments" and said the program was a commentary, not a news show. 

"We considered that the programs presented an overwhelmingly one-sided view (in support of Donald Trump) on a matter of major political controversy and major matter relating to current public policy," Ofcom said, adding that while "there was no unanimous support expressed for Donald Trump and his campaign," there was "a high degree of unanimity in the viewpoints expressed within the programs."

Advertising Issues
More recently, Ofcom ruled on a complaint that Fox News insufficiently distinguished between editorial content and an advertising segment on Fox and Friends.

The investigative "It's Your Money" segment on the show featured discussions between the two hosts and Megan Meany, a representative of website Mega Morning Deals, focusing on products offered exclusively to Fox and Friends viewers at a discount.

While the U.K. TV code doesn't keep networks from offering and promoting goods and services that may be of interest to viewers, it says that advertising and programming must be distinct. "Although the segment was presented and classed as programming, it did not detract from it being akin to advertising," Ofcom ruled. "More should have been done to make the differentiation between editorial and advertising, and the failure to do so was a material breach" of Britain's TV code.

Hannity's "Fox Extra" segments also drew a complaint that got Ofcom to look into them. "These segments covered varied subjects, including cooking, health, technology and travel and guest interviews," it said. Three 2016 segments featured references to three brands that got the brands "undue prominence" or were "not editorially justifiable," Ofcom ruled.