UK communications regulator Ofcom has ruled that Fox News broke broadcasting guidelines when it aired a program discussing the EU referendum on the day of the vote. Your World with Neil Cavuto, a show produced in the US, was broadcast in the UK at 9pm on June 23rd, one hour before the polls had closed. During the business and financial news program, Cavuto said:
“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.”
At 9:55pm, mere minutes before the vote had closed, an additional news item produced the following analysis: “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.”
Ofcom received a complaint about the program, which argued that it broke the regulator’s TV code. Under rule 6.4, broadcasters aren’t allowed to discuss or analyse referendum issues while the polls are open. Breaching this point, the argument goes, can directly affect voters’ decisions and the final outcome. It’s the same reason why John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight show — a HBO production licensed by Sky Atlantic in the UK — wasn’t shown until 10:10pm, a short while after the vote had ended.
Fox News defended the program on multiple fronts. The company said it was aired in the UK and the US simultaneously, as the timing coincides with the closing of the US stock market. It helps viewers to “understand market performance that day,” its legal team argued, and was “prepared with a view towards an American audience.” Fox News said its program was not “advocating a particular position on the vote,” but rather discussing the issues “in the context of (their) impact on financial markets.” It later quoted article 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights, which awards people the right to freedom of expression.
Ofcom waved this defence aside, however. “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.” As a result, the regulator agreed with the complainant and ruled that program breached its broadcasting guidelines. As Politico reports, there will be no financial penalty, however frequent offences can give Ofcom the grounds to impose such a fine.