GB News broke rules over Covid jab claims - Ofcom

time:2023-05-31 01:41:24 source:The New York Times

A GB News programme which broadcast claims that the Covid-19 vaccination programme amounted to "mass murder" has been found to have broken Ofcom rules.

The claims were made in an interview with Naomi Wolf on a show hosted by Mark Steyn last October.

Ofcom received 422 complaints about the comments, and has now asked GB News to attend a meeting on the matter.

GB News said it accepted Ofcom's findings and it welcomed the opportunity to meet with the watchdog.

Ofcom found that the broadcaster did not do enough to protect viewers from potentially harmful content.

The ruling follows a similar breach by the Mark Steyn show on GB News in April last year.

Ms Wolf, a journalist and author, was interviewed about the roll-out of the Covid vaccine during Mr Steyn's hour-long show on the news channel.

She claimed the vaccination programme amounted to "mass murder" and was comparable to the actions of "doctors in pre-Nazi Germany".

Ofcom said her claims "amounted to the promotion of a serious, unchallenged conspiracy theory which was presented with authority".

It was "particularly concerned" by her "serious and alarming claim" that "mass murder" was taking place - something she repeated three times.

"These claims had the potential to impact on viewers' decisions about their health and were therefore potentially harmful," the Ofcom report said.

"[GB News] should have ensured that Naomi Wolf's potentially harmful comments were challenged or otherwise contextualised to provide adequate protection for the audience, which they were not."

The programme was found to have broken rule 2.1 of Ofcom's broadcasting code.

Freedom of speech

Mr Steyn left GB News earlier this year, claiming the channel wanted to make him personally liable for Ofcom fines.

In March the regulator found that an earlier Mark Steyn show, which aired on April 21 2022, broke broadcasting rules and was "potentially harmful and materially misleading".

It used an "incorrect claim" that UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) data provided evidence of a "definitive causal link" between a third Covid-19 vaccine and higher rates of infection, death and people being admitted to hospital.

GB News launched in June 2021, promising to "change the face of news and debate in the UK".

A spokesperson for the channel said: "We accept Ofcom's finding that our former presenter Mark Steyn and his guest Naomi Wolf breached the Ofcom code in their broadcast about Covid vaccines last October. Mr Steyn last appeared on the channel five months ago."

They said they took Ofcom compliance and freedom of speech seriously.

But they added: "The Communications Act of 2003 and the Ofcom Code which stemmed from it were not framed with channels like ours in mind, nor did they fully envisage the current mix of news and opinion in broadcast, or indeed the online and social media world.

"We welcome the opportunity to meet Ofcom and to work with them in ensuring that our legal freedoms to speak freely are robustly protected, while remaining aligned with some of the best journalism and broadcasting standards in the world."

In a statement on her website, Ms Wolf said she stood by her claims and described the ruling as "damaging censorship" and a "baseless reputational attack".

"The exposure of danger to the public which Ofcom today assails, is exactly what real journalism is supposed to do," she added.

"I will continue to speak out with lifesaving information to help protect women and babies."

The Covid vaccine is safe and strongly recommended for pregnant and breastfeeding women, according to the NHS.

A GB News programme hosted by two Conservative MPs is also at the centre of an Ofcom investigation, amid claims it broke impartiality rules.

Ofcom has the power to fine a broadcaster or to suspend or revoke a licence if they consider a broadcaster has "seriously, deliberately, repeatedly or recklessly" breached one of its requirements.

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