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British Media Regulator Censures Fox News for Breaking Impartiality Rules

Findings that Fox News breached fairness rules come as Fox-Sky takeover bid remains up in the air

British media regulator Ofcom has concluded that Fox News programs featuring Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson violated the U.K.’s broadcasting code by breaching impartiality rules – an unwelcome finding for 21st Century Fox as British authorities evaluate the company’s bid to take over pay-TV platform Sky.

Sky dropped Fox News from its U.K. lineup in August, but Ofcom has continued to investigate complaints about shows that aired before the channel went dark. The regulator said Monday that both “Tucker Carlson Tonight” and “Hannity” broke the rules on the “due impartiality” expected of news coverage in Britain.

The findings come as the U.K.’s Competition and Markets Authority conducts an investigation of 21st Century Fox’s proposed $15 billion deal for the chunk of Sky it does not already own. Opponents of the deal have repeatedly cited governance and compliance issues at Fox News as a reason to block it, and Ofcom chief Sharon White has made clear that her organization will work with the CMA as it looks into the bid.

Regarding “Tucker Carlson Tonight,” Ofcom evaluated highly critical statements made on the program 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.”

In finding that the show broke several impartiality rules, Ofcom said: “There was no reflection of the views of the U.K. Government or any of the authorities or people criticized, which we would have expected given the nature and amount of criticism of them in the program. The presenter did not challenge the views of his contributors; instead, he reinforced their views.”

In the case of “Hannity,” Ofcom investigated the outspoken presenter’s monologue in January regarding President Trump’s proposed travel ban. An opening segment of the show had video clips of public figures opposed to the order, which saw those individuals “repeatedly dismissed or ridiculed” by Hannity, Ofcom said.

“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,” Ofcom said. “The presenter consistently voiced his enthusiastic support for the order and the Trump administration.”

“The program didn’t include a sufficiently wide range of views, and any alternative opinions put forward during the discussion were dismissed by the presenter,” an Ofcom spokesman said.

The regulator acknowledged that Fox News viewers expected the channel to comment critically on political targets, but said that alternative views should also have been considered.

Ofcom has the power to fine broadcasters if there are repeated offenses but has no plans to do so against Fox News at this point. The regulator investigated several complaints made against the channel during the time it was on air. The regulator has been keen to point out that the channel reached only a small audience in the U.K. and therefore held less sway than the major news outlets, and was also largely watched by viewers familiar with the channel’s style and position on matters of the day.

The “Hannity” and “Tucker Carlson Tonight” complaints were the last outstanding against Fox News and there are no more under investigation. In each instance, one viewer had complained about the broadcasts, which is sufficient grounds for Ofcom to launch an investigation.

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