Is Fox News Biased? Sean Hannity & Tucker Carlson Broke U.K. Impartiality Rules
Suffice to say, the United Kingdom has a very different approach to right-wing media than the United States. On Monday, the country's official media regulator announced that some of the content on a pair of Fox News shows violated the country's broadcasting standards ― specifically, Ofcom found Hannity and Tucker Carlson Tonight in breach of impartiality rules.
This announcement won't change anything as far as Fox News broadcasting to U.K. audiences, however, owing to the fact that the conservative cable news behemoth doesn't currently air there. The channel was pulled in August due to extremely poor viewership, and it's not terribly hard to understand why: In addition to being a far-right outlet, Fox News' political preoccupations are thoroughly and largely American.
As such, Ofcom finding Fox News in breach of U.K. impartiality rules won't actually have any meaningful effect. But it decided to acknowledge the breach anyway, in order to establish a "complete compliance record," according to the agency's Nov. 6 report.
Although the channel has ceased to broadcast and is no longer a licensed television service falling under Ofcom’s jurisdiction, Ofcom has decided that publication of this short form decision is appropriate to ensure there is a complete compliance record and to facilitate public understanding of the Code.
Fox News referred Bustle's request for comment to its parent company, 21st Century Fox.
The Ofcom report specifically noted a pair of segments the two programs ran. The first, on Hannity, covered the Trump administration's hyper-controversial ban on incoming travel and refugees from several predominantly Muslim countries.
The segment, which originally aired in late January just days after Trump's inauguration, was flagged by Ofcom for failing to provide a fair or adequate challenge to Hannity and his guests' vociferous support for the ban. While the report notes that Hannity did air some video clips of critics of the ban, he "repeatedly dismissed or ridiculed" those views, leaving the critics no means to respond, and all the guests he actually brought on-air ― former Republican Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich and Trump administration adviser Sebastian Gorka among them― were full-throated supporters of the president's action.
Ofcom stated that while it realizes viewers of Hannity's show are likely to expect a conservative or Republican-leaning broadcast, but still deemed the content of his travel ban coverage inappropriately biased.
Ofcom acknowledged that viewers were likely to expect Hannity to address controversial issues from a perspective that is generally more supportive of the US Republican Party. However, the likely audience expectations did not provide sufficient contextual justification to outweigh the numerous highly critical statements made about people who had opposed the Order, coupled with the clear support being expressed for the policies of President Trump.
As for Carlson, the coverage in question regarded the deadly Manchester bombing on May 22, 2017, and included Carlson and his guests making a number of highly charged statements about the British government and its response to incidents of violence committed by Islamic extremists. Ofcom concluded that it was improper to have aired such heated claims and attacks without having someone on to represent the perspective of the UK government or some of the criticized parties.
The programme included highly critical statements about: Theresa May; the Deputy Mayor of Manchester, Baroness Hughes; the Chief Constable of Greater Manchester, Ian Hopkins; the UK Government; and the UK authorities, including accusations that particular individuals and public bodies had done nothing to: counter terrorism; stop radicalisation; protect citizens from terrorism; or protect “thousands of underage girls” from rape and abuse.
Further, about public leaders: that their inaction was motivated by political correctness; they valued how people saw them over the lives of children; and they were forcing an “official lie”on citizens, which was “totalitarian” and “wicked”. There was no reflection of the views of the UK Government or any of the authorities or people criticised, which we would have expected given the nature and amount of criticism of them in the programme. The presenter did not challenge the views of his contributors, instead, he reinforced their views.
In short, while Ofcom's report noted in both cases that Fox News viewers likely expected to get a right-wing commentary, and critical analysis of any left-of-center views or political figures, the utter lack of any articulated counterpoint ran the two hosts afoul of the country's broadcast standards.
In the U.S. there's no similar media watchdog, however. First introduced in 1949, the Fairness Doctrine once required American media to present different sides of a given issue in a balanced and equal fashion, but it was abolished by the FCC in 1987.