Broadcast regulator Ofcom has ordered Talkradio to pay a £75,000 fine after it found George Galloway broke impartiality rules in three programmes in the space of five months in 2018.
Two of the breaches were over Galloway’s comments on anti-Semitism in the Labour Party, while the third came after he shared “biased and unbalanced” views about the UK Government’s response to the Salisbury spy poisoning.
The fine covers all three programmes, while News UK-owned Talkradio must also broadcast a statement of Ofcom’s findings as part of the sanction.
Galloway was sacked from Talkradio in June last year after he posted an allegedly anti-Semitic tweet. He had presented a Friday evening show on the News UK-owned station for three years.
The former MP defended Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn during two shows in July and August 2018, described the suggestion that Corbyn hated Jews as a “Goebbellian lie” and dismissed one anonymous viewer who disagreed with him as an “ignorant moron” and “gutless coward”.
Months earlier, Galloway had described the Government as “blithering idiots” for its response to the Salisbury poisoning incident, shared his belief that Russia was not responsible, and “mocked and ridiculed” any listeners who challenged his stance.
Talksport, the licensee for Talkradio, told Ofcom it should “exercise caution in sanctioning political speech”, especially as none of the material could be classed as hate speech or gravely offensive.
“It cannot be the case that the broadcast of political views that have not been judged to present a risk of harm to listeners or to be offensive, but merely partial, could be harmful such that a sanction is warranted,” the broadcaster claimed.
But Ofcom said it had specific concerns that “sufficient attempts were made to include and give due weight to an appropriately wide range of alternative viewpoints”.
Talksport also said Talkradio had an “excellent record of compliance” and that the breaches could therefore not be described as “repeated”. Nor were they reckless or deliberate, it went on.
It added that it had already taken steps to ensure compliance with the Broadcasting Code in the future, including improved training for production staff, and that a sanction “could not do more to sharpen [its] focus”.
It has also taken down all clips of the offending progammes from its website, Youtube channels and social media pages.
But Ofcom said Talksport had not introduced its new compliance processes quickly enough after being told of the first investigation into Galloway’s show.
Most notably, it failed to always provide either a guest with different views to Galloway or another Talkradio presenter to challenge him instead, as producers had been instructed to do.
The second two breaches likely “would have been avoided” if this had been fully implemented, Ofcom said.
Talksport also told Ofcom Galloway’s shows attracted a “niche” audience of between 8,300 to 10,800 listeners for the three programmes found in breach, meaning “the degree of actual or potential harm to listeners as a result of the contraventions was limited”.
It added that only one complaint had been made about each programme.
It also revealed “reputational damage” caused by the breaches had already “impacted its ability to attract advertisers” as it warned Ofcom that further regulatory action would “compound” the damage further.
But Ofcom ruled there had been a “serious and repeated failure of compliance” with due impartiality rules.
“We considered that the fact that these three breaches of the due impartiality requirements occurred within a period of five months, as well as the licensee’s failure to fully adopt improvements to its compliance processes following the first set of breaches, indicated a significant failure of compliance,” it said.
“Ofcom considers the fact that there were repeated breaches in this case over a period of five months potentially aggravated the detriment to listeners.
“The repeated breaches had the effect of undermining public confidence in the impartiality of, and therefore trust in, broadcast news and current affairs, which the rules in Section Five of the Code are intended to safeguard.”