The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Fox News just got pulled off the air in Britain because hardly anyone watched it

The News Corp. headquarters and Fox News studios in New York. (Richard Drew/AP)

For the few viewers in Britain who tuned into Fox News, Tuesday was a dark day. Starting at 4 p.m., the channel was pulled from British airwaves.

The reason? Too few viewers.

On Tuesday, Fox News's parent company announced that it has pulled the channel off the air in Britain, thanks to low ratings. “It averages only a few thousand viewers across the day,” 21st Century Fox said in a statement provided to CNN. Which is not surprising, the company noted, because most of the Fox News shows target a U.S. audience. “We have concluded that it is not in our commercial interest to continue providing Fox News in the U.K.," the statement said.

Dwindling viewership was not the station's only problem. The channel was regularly criticized for breaching Britain's strict television code.

In 2015, a Fox News pundit's observations about the threat of terrorism in Europe prompted several complaints. Steve Emerson, described by Fox News as a terrorism expert, said Birmingham, Britain's second-largest city, was “totally Muslim,” a place “where non-Muslims just simply don't go in.” Those comments, demonstrably untrue, prompted social media ridicule.

Even then-Prime Minister David Cameron weighed in, calling Emerson “clearly an idiot.”

Fox News's parent company announced on Aug. 29 the channel will no longer air in Britain due to low viewership. (Video: Reuters)

Fox apologized but Ofcom, the British telecommunications regulator, ruled that the network had committed a “serious breach” of the British television code.

Last year, the regulator dinged the network again for airing pro-Brexit views on the day of the referendum. (Rules ban networks from airing any segments on election and referendum issues during polling.) Also in 2016, Ofcom noted that Fox News repeatedly violated the requirement that news programs offer impartial coverage and give time to different views when it came to Donald Trump.

The regulator pointed to three episodes of Sean Hannity's nightly show, which “included a number of highly critical statements” about candidate Hillary Clinton. The show referred to her as “the queen of corruption” and “reckless and crooked.” It also aired clips of Trump calling her refugee plan “insane.”

“We considered that the programs presented an overwhelmingly one-sided view [in support of Trump] on a matter of major political controversy and a major matter relating to current public policy,” Ofcom said at the time. “There was no unanimous support expressed for Donald Trump and his campaign,” it added, but there was “a high degree of unanimity in the viewpoints expressed within the programs.”

Most recently, Fox got into trouble in Britain for failing to clearly label a segment on “Fox & Friends” as advertising.

But some critics suggest there are more nefarious intentions behind Fox News being pulled off the air in Britain. 21st Century Fox, led by Rupert Murdoch, is trying to take over Sky, a satellite company that reaches 22 million customers in Europe. In June, the deal was delayed by British regulators, who wanted to review it to see whether it would give the Murdochs too much control over Britain's media landscape. (Already, the family owns three U.K. newspapers: the Sun, the Times and the Sunday Times.)

The “timing of the announcement is, of course, the interesting feature,” Toby Syfret of Enders Analysis told the Hollywood Reporter. “It cannot harm the bid — indeed, [it] may help a little — from the regulatory perspective regarding the question of broadcasting standards; though I cannot see it affecting the plurality issue and related competition concerns.”