“Fox News is not fair and balanced”, says Ofcom 

24 March 2005 tbs.pm/440

A few weeks ago I was flicking through channels on my Sky “freesat” (the quotes are because “Freesat” is actually, believe it or not, a BBC trademark) system upstairs to see what I could actually receive, and I stumbled across the channel that normally carries that noxious organ of the rabid right, Fox News Channel from the States. It isn’t available on “freesat” so instead of the content (if that’s the right word) you get a caption displayed that says, “FOX News Channel is a 24-hour news service which provides fair and balanced information in [sic] every issue. We Report. You Decide.”

Now, I personally don’t believe that Fox News actually does provide “fair and balanced” coverage by British standards, and that’s fine as it is originated from outside the UK (we don’t expect AlJazeera to be unbiased either, though I?’m told that, being founded by former BBC Arabic Service staffers, it might well be). I just wish they didn’t claim they did. However, the caption you see when you can’t get the channel does originate from the UK, I thought, and thus, surely, should be covered by our regulations. So I thought I’d better complain to Ofcom about it; something I’ve never done before, but is made very easy by their web site, www.ofcom.org.uk. I even provided suggested alternative wording, ending with, “which claims to provide “fair and balanced” information on every issue” I put their slogan in quotes, to make it obvious it’s an opinion – and look: I even corrected their typo.

Well, sad to note, Ofcom decided not to pursue my complaint. However I received a nice letter this morning from one Stuart Paterson of said organisation telling me why. He says (my italics):

“Thank you for your complaint about the Fox News advertising slogan “Fair and Balanced”. We do indeed regard this as an advertising slogan rather than something that we would expect hard evidence to support. Fox News is a free-to-air service on the Sky platform, so if you are a basic “Sky subscriber” you will be able to see Fox News. To anyone watching the channel for any length of time it will become clear that Fox News is not “fair and balanced” in the sense that UK-based news organisations like ITN and BBC News are. We do not therefore find the “slogan” to be misleading. The slogan has gained wide currency and attracted some criticism in the UK. We think it unlikely that many viewers or potential viewers of Fox News will be unaware that it is not an impartial news service in the sense that the BBC, ITN and indeed Sky News are impartial.”

I wish this were the case in the US, where a great many people apparently believe what Fox News feeds them. However, I am glad that Mr Paterson is of the opinion that the British public is more discerning – I just hope it’s true. But at least he agrees with me that Fox’s slogan is untrue, even if he doesn’t think it’s misleading to use it without quotation marks around it.

But if it’s an advertising slogan, does that mean I now have to take the issue up with the Advertising Standards Authority?

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Liverpool, Wednesday 24 April 2024