What is Ofcom? The country's communications regulator deals with thousands of complaints a year

Ofcom has a statutory duty to represent the interests of citizens and consumers. Credit: PA

Ofcom has confirmed "a number of complaints" have been made in response to Laurence Fox's comments about a female journalist on GB News.

People have criticised Fox's comments about political correspondent Ava Evans, after he asked "Who would want to s*** that?" and described her as a "little woman" to presenter Dan Wootton.

Ofcom said in a statement: “We are assessing these complaints against our broadcast rules and will publish the outcome as quickly as possible.”

What is Ofcom?

The Office of Communications, known as Ofcom, is the country's government-approved regulator for communication services.

This means making sure people are able to use services such as broadband, as well as ensuring the universal postal service covers all UK addresses six days a week.

Crucially, however, it also works to make sure a range of companies provide quality television and radio programmes.

In simple terms, Ofcom is in charge of protecting viewers and listeners of television and radio from harmful or offensive material.

What powers does Ofcom have?

As Ofcom licenses all UK commercial television and radio services - including channels like ITV, the BBC, Sky, GB News, and Channel 4 - it means broadcasters must comply to the terms of their licence.

If they do not comply, or do not adhere to the Broadcasting Code, Ofcom can revoke licences.

Ofcom has a statutory duty to represent the interests of citizens and consumers, so it also promotes competition among the companies it regulates.

As part of those statutory duties, Ofcom monitors broadcasters’ workforces and equal opportunities arrangements.

It collects information on broadcasters’ employees in terms of sex, race and disability on a mandatory basis.

It also collects information on other protected characteristics set out in the Equality Act 2010 (religion or belief, sexual orientation and age), as well as social and economic background, on a voluntary basis.

Under the Communications Act 2003, Ofcom is required to:

  • Take the steps it considers appropriate for promoting equality of opportunity between men and women, people of different racial groups and for disabled people in relation to employment and training/retraining by the television and radio broadcasters it regulates.

  • Set licence conditions requiring broadcasters to make arrangements for promoting equality of opportunity between men and women, people of different racial groups and for disabled people.

The regulator does not have the power to set or enforce quotas or targets for diversity in broadcasting, nor can it handle complaints relating to workforce diversity.

BBC Broadcasting House in London Credit: Ian West/PA

What is the Ofcom Broadcasting Code?

The Broadcasting Code covers a range of topics that ultimately aim to protect viewers and listeners based in the UK.

From protecting under-18s and curbing abuse to ensuring journalistic impartiality and privacy, all broadcasters are required to agree to the rules and have their coverage meet these "generally accepted standards".

"It is the responsibility of the broadcaster to comply with the Code," Ofcom has said.

Can Ofcom impose sanctions?

Yes, it can. "Ofcom may impose a sanction if we consider that a broadcaster has seriously, deliberately, repeatedly or recklessly breached one of our requirements."

Sanctions include:

  • A direction not to repeat content

  • A direction to broadcast a correction or a statement of Ofcom’s findings

  • Financial penalties

  • Depending on the licence type and type of breach, shortening, suspending or revoking a licence

How is Ofcom funded?

While its duties come from Parliament, Ofcom is independent and funded by fees paid by the companies it regulates.

The regulator is required to create a report of its annual findings to Parliament.

Ofcom decided no further action would be taken against Adjoa Andoh following her comments. Credit: PA

Can I complain to Ofcom?

You can, and Ofcom asks you to do so when you see or listen to something that could be in breach of The Broadcasting Code.

It accepts complaints about any of the services it regulates, such as on harmful or offensive material, or unfair treatment in programmes, or invasions of privacy.

Complaints are accepted through Ofcom's website.

The ones about Laurence Fox on Wednesday relate to his potentially offensive and misogynistic comments about a female journalist.

Other high-profile Ofcom complaints include impartiality investigations into GB News, such as an episode of Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg's State of the Nation, which was flagged for potentially breaking a rule against politicians acting as newsreaders, interviewers or reporters "unless exceptionally it is editorially justified".

A televised comment by Bridgerton star Adjoa Andoh about the Buckingham Palace balcony being “terribly white” during the King's Coronation was - at the time in May - the year's most complained about moment of 2023 so far.

More than 4,000 complaints were filed about the remark.

Earlier this year, Gary Lineker was embroiled in an Ofcom investigation when the Match Of The Day (MOTD) presenter, 62, was taken off air after a tweet about asylum seeker policy sparked an impartiality row at the BBC.

The head of Ofcom, Dame Melanie Dawes, said at the time that the BBC needs to weigh freedom of expression with reputation for impartiality when reviewing its social media guidelines.

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