Ofcom Says Fox News Broke Broadcasting Rules with Pro-Brexit Views

By Tom Pritchard on at

When you hear the name 'Fox News', impartiality isn't one of the things you'd generally think of. So it's hardly surprising that the network had a few things to say about Brexit. The problem? Some of the pro-Brexit sentiment was broadcast in the UK before the referendum vote was complete, and that's against the rules.

The problem came from the US-produced Your World with Neil Cavuto, which was broadcast in the UK at 9pm on 23rd June. That's an hour before the referendum polls closed.

During the course of the programme, Cavuto was quoted as saying:

"We are governed by a bunch of bureaucrats that don't speak English in a funny place called The Hague, which makes no sense at all, and it tells Britain what to do it takes British money, it doesn't send much of it back -- it's a very unfair one-way street when you begin to dig into it and the biggest thing of course is that all of this is all a disguise over the immigration issue."

He also said this at 9.55pm, only a few minutes before polls closed:

"Long term I don't buy this argument that Britain is going to fall apart. I means there's no way...this is a very industrious culture they can set their own rules, I don't know why any Brit -- maybe I'm too much of a Yank -- why would any Brit want to offshore its sovereignty to Brussels? That makes no sense to me."

Aside from some of the factual inaccuracies there (like suggesting The Hague is in Brussels), this broadcast broke Ofcom guidelines. Specifically it broke rule 6.4 which dictates "Discussion and analysis of election and referendum issues must finish when the poll opens. (This refers to the opening of actual polling stations. This rule does not apply to any poll conducted entirely by post.)"

This is the exact reason why John Oliver's Brexit-themed episode of Last Week Tonight was not broadcast here until 10.10pm on referendum day.

Fox News's legal team has defended the programme, stating that it's broadcast simultaneously in the US and UK to coincide with the closing of the US stock market. This is so that viewers can "understand market performance that day." The network's lawyers also argued that "the piece prepared with a view towards an American audience" and was not "advocating a particular position on the vote." Instead it was discussing Brexit "in the context of [its] impact on financial markets."

Somewhat ironically the lawyers also quoted article 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights, which awards the right to freedom of expression.

Unfortunately rules is rules, and Ofcom has dismissed Fox's defence. The regulator said:

"The prohibition in rule 6.4 on discussion and analysis of referendum issues while the polls are open is not qualified in any way -- for example by the possibility of a broadcaster justifying the material by the context."

Not that it really matters at the moment. Apparently there will be no financial penalty incurred for this offence, though if this sort of things keeps happening then Fox might have to cough up some cash. [Ofcom via Engadget]