Ofcom: GB News breached broadcasting rules
March 6, 2023
By Colin Mann
UK broadcast regulator Ofcom has found the Mark Steyn programme, which aired on GB News on April 21st, 2022, in breach of its broadcasting rules.
Ofcom says it has been consistently clear that, under its rules, broadcasters are free to transmit programmes which may be considered controversial and challenging, or which question statistics or other evidence produced by governments or other official sources. It can clearly be in the public interest to do so. However, with this editorial freedom comes an obligation to ensure that, when portraying factual matters, audiences are not materially misled.
In this case, Ofcom’s investigation found that an episode of the Mark Steyn programme fell short of these standards – not because it exercised its editorial freedom to challenge mainstream narratives around Covid-19 vaccination – but because, in doing so, it presented a materially misleading interpretation of official data without sufficient challenge or counterweight, risking harm to viewers.
Specifically, the programme incorrectly claimed that official UKHSA data provided definitive evidence of a causal link between receiving a third Covid-19 vaccine and higher infection, hospitalisation and death rates.
This was materially misleading because the way the data was presented to viewers during the programme did not take account of the significant differences in age or health of people in the vaccinated and unvaccinated groups studied. Ofcom also took into account the definitive way in which the misleading interpretation of the data was presented, and the absence of adequate counterweight or genuine challenge. The programme also failed to reflect that the UKHSA reports made clear that the raw data contained within them should not be used to draw conclusions about the effectiveness of the vaccine.
Given these misleading claims were broadcast as part of a factual programme on a news and current affairs service and may have resulted in viewers making important decisions about their own health, Ofcom concluded that the programme was potentially harmful and materially misleading, in breach of Rule 2.2 of the Broadcasting Code.
An additional investigation into an episode of Mark Steyn, which aired on October 4th, 2022, remains ongoing.