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UK Authority Rules Against FNC's Hannity, Carlson

UK communications regulator Ofcom has ruled that broadcasts of Fox News' Hannity and Tucker Carlson Tonight were not fair and balanced, concluding they did not report the news impartially, in violation of Ofcom's broadcasting code. The decision comes only days after Fox News Channel withdrew from the UK market.

The code requires that "news, in whatever form, is reported with due accuracy and presented with due impartiality."

Unlike the U.S., the UK has no First Amendment protection for impartial speech and affirmatively requires "significant alternative viewpoints" to be expressed and “given due weight,” similar to the U.S. FCC's Fairness Doctrine, which was scrapped in 1987.

Fox pulled its feed of the U.S. network from the UK on Nov. 1, and no longer holds a license for that service in the UK, but Ofcom decided to issue the decision anyway to "ensure there is a complete compliance record and to facilitate public understanding of the Code."

The Hannity broadcast at issue was Jan 31 coverage of President Donald Trump's travel ban executive order.

Ofcon said it recognized that Fox News was a U.S.-targeted channel and not the main source of news for UK viewers, but said the story was a major matter of particular relevance to UK viewers. It also found the show gave short shrift to alternative viewpoints, which were "dismissed or ridiculed," while "consistently voicing enthusiastic support for the Order and the Trump Administration."

While Ofcom said viewers were likely to expect the show to address controversial issues "from a perspective that is generally more supportive of the US Republican Party," that did not outweigh the critical statements about those who opposed the order "coupled with the clear support being expressed for the policies of President Trump."

The Tucker Carlson broadcast at issue was a May 25, 2017,  discussion of UK reaction to the Manchester terrorist attack on May 22. While Ofcom recognized it was an opinion show, it said the program included highly critical statements about the prime minister, Deputy Mayor of Manchester, the chief constable of Greater Manchester and others, including accusing them of having done nothing to counter the terrorist or protect its citizens, including "thousands of underage girls" from rape and abuse.

"There was no reflection of the views of the UK 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 programme,": Ofcon said, adding: "The presenter did not challenge the views of his contributors, instead, he reinforced their views."

The finding does not help 21st Century Fox's effort to get its proposed purchase of Sky through UK regulators. Although the deal got a clean bill of health from the European Commission in April, Ofcom's Competition & Markets Authority (CMA), is conducting a full review of the deal after Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Karen Bradley said the deal might not be in the public interest because did not have adequate public-interest compliance procedures in place for the broadcast of Fox News Channel in the U.K.--an issue now moot with Fox's withdrawal of the channel from the market--as well as the "Foxification" of Fox-owned outlets internationally.

In December 2016, 21st Century Fox agreed to pay $14.8 billion for the balance of the Pay-TV service it did not already own. Sky has 22 million subs in five countries: Italy, Germany, Austria, the U.K. and Ireland.

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.