American media critics across the land have to be kicking themselves right now, following the issuance of a bulletin from the British media regulator Ofcom (short for Office of Communications). As it turns out, the best way to highlight the unfair and imbalanced coverage on Fox News is not through sarcasm; not through comparisons with other channels; not through clever parodies and commentary. It’s through the use of bureaucratese.
Pursuant to a complaint, Ofcom conducted an investigation into a segment on the Jan. 31 edition of the Fox News program “Hannity.” The segment focused on President Trump’s controversial executive order restricting travel to the United States from seven Muslim-majority countries. What did the British watchdogs find? A lot, and much of it is worth cutting and pasting:
The opening monologue featured several video clips of public figures reacting critically to the Order. However, these views were briefly represented in pre-recorded videos and repeatedly dismissed or ridiculed by the presenter [Sean Hannity] without sufficient opportunity for the contributors to challenge or otherwise respond to the criticism directed at them. During the rest of the programme, 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.
Ofcom acknowledged that viewers were likely to expect Hannity to address controversial issues from a perspective that is generally more supportive of the US Republican Party. 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.
You don’t say!
Ofcom’s work didn’t end there. It also examined a segment on the May 24 edition of “Tucker Carlson Tonight,” in which the host welcomed Brexit champion Nigel Farage and occasional Rush Limbaugh guest host Mark Steyn. Together, these three fellows bashed the British government’s response to a suicide bombing in Manchester just days before. Carlson, for example, sharpened the presentation with a leading question or two: “So, Mark Steyn, if you’re running a country and you know that people in your country have gone to fight with the most grotesque terror group ever created and you do nothing about it, you’re really not trying to protect your population, are you?”
The Brits scowled:
The programme included highly critical statements about: Theresa May; the Deputy Mayor of Manchester, Baroness Hughes; the Chief Constable of Greater Manchester, Ian Hopkins; the UK Government; and the UK authorities, including accusations that particular individuals and public bodies had done nothing to: counter terrorism; stop radicalisation; protect citizens from terrorism; or protect “thousands of underage girls” from rape and abuse. Further, about public leaders: that their inaction was motivated by political correctness; they valued how people saw them over the lives of children; and they were forcing an “official lie” on citizens, which was “totalitarian” and “wicked”. There was no reflection of the views of the UK Government or any of the authorities or people criticised, which we would have expected given the nature and amount of criticism of them in the programme. The presenter did not challenge the views of his contributors, instead, he reinforced their views.
Ofcom considered that viewers were likely to have expected the programme to comment critically on various political targets, which in this case included the UK Government and authorities more generally. However, we considered that these contextual factors were not sufficient to remove the need for the programme to also reflect significant alternative viewpoints, and treat these with due weight.
Bolding added to highlight big news: Tucker Carlson participated in a groupthink exercise with two right-wingers.
In explaining its work, Ofcom noted that it had alighted on the “Hannity” and “Tucker Carlson Tonight” segments because the executive order on travel and the British response to Manchester were “major matters” that merited close examination. And in the end, the regulators found the two programs “in breach” of three barely distinct provisions of Section Five of the Ofcom Broadcasting Code. Section Five is titled “Due impartiality and due accuracy” — or a cluster of regulations designed for Fox News. One of the three rules of which both “Hannity” and “Tucker Carlson Tonight” ran afoul provides that “due impartiality must be preserved on matters of major political and industrial controversy and major matters relating to current public policy by the person providing a service (listed above) in each programme or in clearly linked and timely programmes.” Another of the violated rules states, in part, “Views and facts must not be misrepresented.”
Ofcom won’t be fining or otherwise penalizing Fox News or its parent company, 21st Century Fox. The company pulled Fox News from the airwaves in Britain on Aug. 29, and Ofcom “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.” A separate appendage of the British government — the Competitions and Markets Authority — is reviewing 21st Century Fox’s $15 billion bid to take complete control of satellite TV company Sky TV. That review has gotten gummed up in bureaucracy and controversy surrounding sexual harassment scandals at Fox News.
The Erik Wemple Blog won’t take issue with the conclusions of Ofcom regarding the segments under review. Had Ofcom expanded its investigation, it would have found many, many other segments to nitpick under various sections of its beloved code.
Yet we’ll take the U.S. system, in which people such as the Erik Wemple Blog, Mediaite, NewsBusters, Media Matters, Raw Story, the Washington Examiner, CNN, Salon, The Federalist, the Daily Caller and the entire mainstream media reach their own judgments about “due impartiality and due accuracy,” without any input from an American Ofcom. Consider the unseemly conflict in the Ofcom ruling, after all: Here it was, a part of the British government bashing a television program for bashing British authorities. Where’s the “due impartiality,” Ofcom?
Better to let the market do its work. Fox News disappeared from British airwaves because of a lack of audience.