U.K. Media Regulator Rules Fox News Breached Impartiality Rules

Sean Hannity - Publicity 2 -H 2017
Courtesy of FOX NEWS

Ofcom said it continued to investigate complaints about Fox News shows that came in before the channel stopped airing in the U.K.

U.K. media regulator Ofcom said Monday that Fox News shows hosted by Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson violated the British broadcasting code's impartiality rules.

In August, 21st Century Fox pulled the plug on Fox News in the U.K. The Ofcom rulings come as British regulators continue to evaluate the company’s bid to take full control of pay TV giant Sky on both.

Ofcom said it continued to investigate complaints about Fox News shows that came in before the channel stopped airing in the U.K. "Although the channel has ceased to broadcast and is no longer a licensed television service falling under Ofcom’s jurisdiction, Ofcom has decided that publication of this short form decision is appropriate to ensure there is a complete compliance record and to facilitate public understanding of the code," it said.

It said in a report Monday that Tucker Carlson Tonight and Hannity broke Britain's rules for "due impartiality." Each show had received one complaint, which is enough for an Ofcom probe. 

In the case of Hannity, it probed a monologue in January regarding President Trump’s proposed travel ban. "The opening monologue featured several video clips of public figures reacting critically to the order," Ofcom wrote. "However, these views were briefly represented in pre-recorded videos and repeatedly dismissed or ridiculed by the presenter without sufficient opportunity for the contributors to challenge or otherwise respond to the criticism directed at them. During the rest of the program, the presenter interviewed various guests who were all prominent supporters of the Trump administration and highly critical of those opposed to the order. The presenter consistently voiced his enthusiastic support for the order and the Trump Administration." 

In its ruling Monday, the regulator said that "Ofcom acknowledged that viewers were likely to expect Hannity to address controversial issues from a perspective that is generally more supportive of the U.S. Republican Party." It added: "However, the likely audience expectations did not provide sufficient contextual justification to outweigh the numerous highly critical statements made about people who had opposed the order, coupled with the clear support being expressed for the policies of President Trump."

In the case of Tucker Carlson Tonight, the regulator looked at critical statements about British government and police officials in the wake of the Manchester Arena bombing in May, including "accusations that particular individuals and public bodies had done nothing to: counter terrorism; stop radicalization; protect citizens from terrorism; or protect ‘thousands of underage girls’ from rape and abuse."

Ofcom said it "considered that viewers were likely to have expected the program to comment critically on various political targets, which in this case included the U.K. government and U.K. authorities more generally." It added: "However, we considered that these contextual factors were not sufficient to remove the need for the program to also reflect significant alternative viewpoints, and treat these with due weight."