George Galloway rapped by Ofcom for radio show

George Galloway, the Respect MP, breached guidelines on impartiality when he encouraged listeners to demonstrate against Israel on his Talksport radio show, the broadcasting watchdog Ofcom has found.

It said his programme had moved away “from legitimate debate and started to campaign on a major matter of controversy” by calling on people to join protests against Israel’s actions in Gaza.

At one point, Mr Galloway, who presents a twice-weekly evening phone-in at the station on topical issues, said: “Stand up, stand up against the great crime that took place in Gaza today.”

But, in a decison published this week, Ofcom rejected complaints that he had not given enough airtime to people giving a pro-Israel viewpoint.

Ofcom received 14 complaints about five programmes broadcast between November last year and January.

Some believed that he was “biased against Israel and did not allow callers, holding an opposing view to his own, an adequate opportunity to comment”.

According to Ofcom, Talksport responded that “the Israel-Gaza problem crosses party lines in this country and is not a party political issue.

“It pointed out that the Israeli government’s actions in December 2008/January 2009 were condemned by the majority of the international community and that the situation in Gaza deteriorated to such an extent that it was regarded as a humanitarian crisis.”

The station said that it had a reputation for employing “highly opinionated” presenters and Mr Galloway’s views on the Middle East were “well-known”.

But it stressed that Mr Galloway “encourages people with an alternative point of view to call” his programme and he “prioritises” such callers.

Ofcom said that the broadcasting code permits presenters “to express their own views on controversial issues so long as alternative views are adequately represented and regular presenters (such as George Galloway)do not promote their views in a way that compromises due impartiality”.

It noted that Israel’s position had been put in interviews with Lorna Fitzsimons, the chief executive of BICOM, and the Times journalist Oliver Kamm.

Overall, Ofcom concluded that “an appropriately wide range of significant views” had been aired on the programme.

However, it upheld complaints about the calls to join demonstrations.

“At these junctures, the programme turned from debating points of view and opinions into active campaigning on a major matter of political controversy,” Ofcom said. “The broadcaster was actively encouraging listeners to participate in a political activity with details of the events, addresses and times.”

A spokesman for Talksport declined to comment.

    Last updated: 4:30pm, June 25 2009