Inquiry into ‘electoral interference’ over C4’s Reform UK allegations

OFCOM Watch, a new campaigning organisation monitoring the TV and online ‘regulator’ Ofcom (Office of Communications), has instructed a senior barrister to lead an independent inquiry into alleged election interference by Channel 4 Television.

A Channel 4 News programme broadcast on June 27 made multiple allegations against the Reform UK party, including racism and Islamophobia. These were based in large part on opinions voiced by a man who appears to be an actor, Andrew Parker. A company called Lee Sorrell Media appears to have sold the undercover footage to Channel 4. Ofcom Watch are concerned about the effect this may have on the ability to investigate the company’s use of the actor.  Mr Lee Sorrell was Head of Investigations at ITV from 2004 – 2009 and undertook the same role for LWT from 1993 – 2003.

Ofcom has a specific regulatory framework during UK General Elections and has a duty to follow guidance it has issued under the Communications Act 2003. Ofcom Watch is concerned to establish whether these and other broadcasting standards and regulatory guidelines may have been breached by the payment of financial inducements to influence voters other than through the restricted use of party-political advertising.

The remit of the inquiry is to conduct a thorough investigation into the facts, including whether Mr Parker appeared in the broadcast, if so whether he was paid, his instructions from Lee Sorrell Media, whether the Channel 4 reporter was aware of his involvement, what communications took place between Channel 4, Lee Sorrell Media and Mr Parker and, finally, whether Channel 4 was aware or should have been aware of the use of a paid undercover actor by its contractor. The inquiry will then consider whether there may have been breaches of any law or guidance, including electoral law, and whether the facts of this incident show the need for electoral law to be tightened to address the use of paid actors in reports by news organisations.

Ofcom Watch and the Reform UK party will then consider whether to make formal complaints to Channel 4, Ofcom and if the inquiry finds evidence of criminal conduct, to the police or the Director of Public Prosecutions.

They believe that there is worrying evidence of electoral interference and the breach of the law that may have had a serious effect on the democratic process. This incident is particularly concerning as the report was broadcast so close to the general election.

The use of a paid undercover actor by Channel 4 and their associates is central to the inquiry. Ofcom Watch believe this constitutes serious election interference.

Ofcom has refused to investigate.

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