Broadcasting regulator Ofcom has fined rolling news and talk station TalkSport £20,000 after veteran presenter James Whale encouraged listeners to vote for Boris Johnson in the London mayoral race.
Whale, who had his contract with the station terminated in April, was found to have breached the Ofcom code on political impartiality.
The regulator said it had received three complaints about the programme, broadcast on 20 March – six weeks before the polls opened for the London mayoral elections.
During the show, Whale criticised Ken Livingstone, describing his eight-year tenure as London mayor as ‘nothing but a a complete and utter tragedy for the capital city”.
Ofcom found he also directly encouraged listeners in London to vote for Boris Johnson, the victorious Conservative candidate.
Whale said Londoners would have a better quality of life under Johnson’s leadership and that they would not be ‘ripped off nearly as much, if at all”.
He also said that if people did not vote for Boris Johnson then they had only themselves to blame if ‘Livingstone gets in for another term”.
Ofcom said the London mayoral elections were a matter of major political controversy and alternative views about Livingstone’s record as mayor were not represented in the programme.
It has ordered the station, owned by Ulster Television, to pay a £20,000 fine and broadcast a summary of Ofcom’s findings.
The regulator said: ‘The presenter’s comments were not simply a ‘vote forâ€¦’comment, but amounted to a direct political message to his listeners.
‘This effectively resulted in the programme becoming a platform in support of Boris Johnson and critical of Ken Livingstone.”
TalkSport said it had done everything in its power to avoid the breach, which it described as ‘a one-off rant”.
Whale was dismissed from the station in mid-April and his contract was terminated.
But Ofcom said TalkSport did not take prompt action, as Whale continued to broadcast on the station for almost a month after the comments were made.
In its ruling, the regulator said the breach of the broadcasting code had the potential to cause “considerable harm to the democratic process”.
‘The case involves an experienced presenter who was aware that he should not have been making such comments, and who used his programme in a deliberate and conscious way to promote one particular candidate for the 2008 London mayoral elections,” it said.
Whale’s producer attempted to stop him making the remarks, but Ofcom found that the presenter ‘ignored the comments of his producer, giving listeners the clear sense that James Whale was in charge of what was broadcast and not the producer”
In November last year, TalkSport was warned by Ofcom after presenter George Galloway was also found to have broken the broadcasting code on political impartiality.