Ofcom has today imposed a sanction on ESTV (PDF, 455.7 KB) after an interview with David Icke on its local television channel London Live included potentially harmful content about the Coronavirus pandemic.
Our investigation found David Icke expressed views which had the potential to cause significant harm to viewers in London during the pandemic. We were particularly concerned by his comments casting doubt on the motives behind official health advice to protect the public from the virus.
These claims went largely unchallenged during the 80-minute interview and were made without the support of any scientific or other evidence. While we acknowledge that David Icke has a right to hold and express these views, they risked causing significant harm to viewers who may have been particularly vulnerable at the time of broadcast.
Ofcom stresses that there is no prohibition on broadcasting views which diverge from or challenge official authorities on public health information. However, in broadcasting David Icke’s unsubstantiated views without sufficient challenge or context, ESTV failed in its responsibility to ensure that viewers were adequately protected. As a result, we are directing London Live to broadcast a summary of our findings on a date and form to be decided by Ofcom.
We are also now considering whether to impose any further sanction. While the Licensee has accepted the Direction, it considers that any further sanction would be disproportionate. The Licensee has the opportunity to make representations to Ofcom’s Sanctions Panel before the Panel reaches a final decision.
Separately, Ofcom has carefully considered complaints (PDF, 285.3 KB) about comments made by Eamonn Holmes on ITV’s This Morning about misinformation around Covid-19 and 5G technology.
In our view, Eamonn Holmes’ ambiguous comments were ill-judged and risked undermining viewers’ trust in advice from public authorities and scientific evidence. His statements were also highly sensitive in view of the recent attacks on mobile phone masts in the UK, caused by conspiracy theories linking 5G technology and the virus.
We have taken into account the context provided by Alice Beer, This Morning’s Consumer Editor, who strongly rejected theories linking Covid-19 to 5G earlier in this programme; the prominent caption which rooted the discussion in ‘fake news’ about Covid-19; and an on-air statement broadcast by Eamonn Holmes the following day. In view of these factors, we have issued guidance to ITV and its presenters.
Broadcasters have editorial freedom to discuss and challenge the approach taken by public authorities to a serious public health crisis such as the Coronavirus. However, discussions about unproven claims and theories which could undermine viewers’ trust in official public health information must be put fully into context to ensure viewers are protected. These responsibilities are especially important when ongoing events – such as mobile phone masts in the UK being attacked – risk significant harm to the public.