Jacob Rees-Mogg
Prominent Brexiteers Jacob Rees-Mogg appeared to doze off during the emergency debate on a no-deal Brexit in the House of Commons. PRU

Britain's communications regulator, Ofcom, oversees TV and Radio through its Broadcasting Code which establishes standards for the conduct of broadcasters. Recently, Ofcom has launched two new investigations into news broadcasting incidents which potentially break the Code.

Firstly, an investigation has been launched into GB News, which presents news and current affairs with a right-wing orientation. The broadcaster boasts the contributions of significant figures on the right of British politics, including former UKIP leader Nigel Farage and former Conservative Defense Secretary and Shadow Chancellor Michael Portillo.

Also contributing to the coverage of GB News is sitting Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg. Having served in government in several ministerial positions, including most recently as the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Rees-Mogg is well known for his support of Brexit and his socially conservative attitudes including opposition to abortion and gay marriage.

Specifically, an episode of State of the Nation presented by Rees-Mogg on the ninth of May this year reported a breaking news story about former US President Donald Trump, who was subject to a civil trial involving charges of rape from the writer and journalist E Jean Carroll. Whilst the jury did not find Trump guilty of rape, they did rule that the former US President sexually abused Carrol back in the 1990s.

Ofcom received 40 complaints about the State of Nation episode which reported the story. Alongside Rees-Mogg on the show were Nigel Farage and Kari Lake, the Republican candidate for the 2022 Arizona gubernatorial election. Lake is known for her support of Trump, having backed up the former President's false claims that the result of the 2020 election was fraudulent.

Farage also has a reputation for supporting Trump having appeared at his campaign rallies in the run-up to the 2016 and 2020 US presidential elections. Farage recently interviewed Trump on behalf of GB News. In the opening remarks of the interview, Trump referred to the "long friendship" and mutual "respect" between the pair.

On GB News, commenting on the trial verdict, Lake claimed that Trump has been subjected to "a barrage of negativity" for eight years, and "a constant witch hunt" intended to damage his reputation. Lake also questioned the fairness of the verdict that Trump is guilty of sexual assault, asserting that people in New York "have been poisoned against President Trump for eight years" with "non-stop negative coverage". Moreover, "they literally hate the man", Lake claimed before she asked how it is possible to "get a fair jury in a situation like that".

Secondly, Ofcom has launched an investigation into a Talk TV show presented by Alex Salmond on the second of April. Ofcom received two complaints about the programme concerning the discussion of the SNP. Ofcom is now considering whether Talk TV was in compliance with rules on "due impartiality".

Founded back in 2021, Salmond currently leads the Alba Party which campaigns for Scottish independence. Salmon was leader of the SNP and First Minister of Scotland until November 2014 after which he was succeeded by Nicola Sturgeon.

Salmond also created controversy back in 2017 when he launched a show on RT, a news network funded by the Russian state. Salmond suspended the show in 2022 in response to Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

In response to the phenomenon of sitting politicians presenting current affairs programmes, Ofcom has launched new research to investigate public perceptions on the issue. The communications regulator intends to publish the results of their research later this year. Crucially, Ofcom says that it is important for them to understand how the British public perceives TV and radio content to ensure that broadcasting rules are "relevant and effective".

Moreover, the new investigations beg the question of whether active politicians should be allowed to present news programmes.

The current Ofcom Broadcasting Code states: "No politician may be used as a newsreader, interviewer or reporter in any news programmes unless, exceptionally, it is editorially justified. In that case, the political allegiance of that person must be made clear to the audience."

Moreover, the guidance on this rule specifies that using politicians to present news programmes could be potentially problematic for compliance with the rule on "due impartiality". Section five of the Broadcasting Code specifies that "news, in whatever form" should be "reported with due accuracy and presented with due impartiality". According to Ofcom to be impartial means not to favour "one side over another".

Can active politicians Jacob Rees-Mogg and Alex Salmond be trusted not to favour one side over the other in the presentation of the news and current affairs? Perhaps some, whereas others, maybe not. Moreover, it stands to reason that some politicians are more trustworthy than others when it comes to detaching from their own views and presenting a balanced and fair report of a given issue.