Insights Due impartiality and due accuracy: Ofcom publishes new guidance


Ofcom has published new research and guidance on due impartiality and due accuracy, particularly focusing on the issue of politicians presenting programmes. It follows a number of high-profile complaints in this area and comes as Ofcom has put broadcasters on notice that they “must maintain the highest editorial standards ahead of a General Election”.

Ofcom recently commissioned research to understand audiences’ attitudes towards politicians presenting programmes on television and radio. Under current Ofcom rules, politicians are not permitted to present the news on television or radio, but can present current affairs programmes so long as due impartiality is preserved. Those that were interviewed said that it is not always easy in practice to distinguish between these types of programmes and that measures should be taken to differentiate between the two (such as preventing rolling banners or other visual features ordinarily associated with news broadcasts appearing on current affairs programmes). Similarly, while there was no consensus that politicians should be prevented outright from presenting current affairs programmes, those interviewed thought that audiences should be warned about the presenter possibly having a particular agenda, and that politicians should be prevented from interviewing members of their own party. It was also found that there is some confusion as to who counts towards the definition of a politician, and that those politicians who do present current affairs programmes should present alternative points of view “robustly and respectfully”.

Whilst not directly influenced by these findings, the updated guidance published by Ofcom echoes these themes. The section on politicians presenting programmes is much more detailed than previous guidance, and makes clear that politicians must not act as newsreaders, news interviewers, or news reporters at any point.

In the light of the General Election likely to take place later this year, Ofcom has also drawn particular attention to the prohibition in Rule 6.6 of the Broadcasting Code that candidates in UK elections cannot act as news presenters, interviewers, or presenters of any type of programme during the election period. It calls upon all broadcasters who use politicians as presenters to pay attention to the new research and updated guidance, and also warns that it is “likely to view breaches of the due impartiality rules in election programming presented by non-standing politicians as serious, and we may consider imposing statutory sanctions”.

Commenting on the research and updated guidance, Cristina Nicolotti Squires, Ofcom’s Broadcasting and Media Group Director, said:

“People are clear that, they expect broadcasters to maintain the highest standards of due impartiality. It follows that, given politicians’ partial viewpoint, audiences don’t want to see or listen to politicians presenting news – full stop. But while many are instinctively uncomfortable with politicians presenting current affairs, there was no clear consensus for an outright ban. There are a number of important lessons here for broadcasters. We expect them to pay close attention to what their viewers and listeners are telling them through the research, our published decisions involving politicians as presenters, and to our strengthened guidance on how we expect the rules to apply in practice. As we approach the local elections and edge ever nearer to a General Election, we’re also sending a clear warning to broadcasters – and particularly those that use politicians as presenters – that nothing short of the highest standards of compliance with the heightened impartiality rules during this period will be acceptable. Should any broadcaster fall short, we’ll move swiftly to enforce those rules.”

The research can be read in full here, and the updated guidance can be viewed here.