Yes, Caesar did it on 10 January 49BC – Ofcom on Monday of this week (9 April 2108). The significance of this Ofcom move however was not recognised by commentators or the press at the time.

Ofcom’s Rubicon was publishing its first ever decision finding the BBC in breach of the Broadcasting Code rules on due accuracy and due impartiality. It was back in the spring of 2017, you’ll recall, that Ofcom finally took over the powers to regulate the BBC in these areas. Previously it was the BBC Trust (remember that?), and the Trust fought an unsuccessful rearguard action to keep Ofcom at bay. Ofcom won and the man who recommended the Trust should be scrapped, Sir David Clementi, is now Chair of the BBC.

In summary, the Ofcom decision found an edition of Radio 4’s flagship news and current affairs show breached the due accuracy requirement of Rule 5.1 of the code (news must be presented with due accuracy and presented with due impartiality); but did not breach Rule 5.2 (significant mistakes in news should be corrected on air quickly.) The content which contravened the Code was an interview in August 2017 with the well known climate sceptic, Lord Lawson, when he claimed that the UN and “all the experts” said that extreme weather events had not increased, and that “average world temperature has slightly declined” over the past ten years. The two statements were not true and not sufficiently challenged during the interview, Ofcom found.

There are some curious features of the decision. These suggest that BBC fought hard against the breach behind the scenes and that Ofcom was treading very cautiously. First, the decision gives no explanation of why Ofcom investigated only under the due accuracy part of Rule 5.1, and not due impartiality as well (I assume because this was more straightforward for Ofcom to argue). Second. why did Ofcom investigate under Rule 5.2? Normally the regulator does not bother. Also why does Ofcom refer to its Preliminary View in this case, when the BBC did not comment on it?

What this decision underlines is how unnecessary it was for the BBC to be regulated in this area by the BBC Trust, as opposed to Ofcom, in the first place back in 2007 when the Trust was set up. The BBC’s cries that for a wholly¬† independent¬† outside body like Ofcom to regulate it in these areas would compromise its independence never rang true for me. Perhaps however ten years of the BBC Trust were needed, the flow of history, to allow the BBC to become a bit less precious and adjust to a new regulatory landscape.