Ofcom finds GB News in breach of broadcasting rules for a second time
An Ofcom investigation has today found the Mark Steyn programme, which first aired on GB News on 4 October 2022, in breach of our broadcasting rules.
The programme included an interview between presenter, Mark Steyn, and a guest, Dr Naomi Wolf. During the interview, Naomi Wolf made serious claims about the Covid-19 vaccine, including that its rollout amounted to a pre-meditated crime – “mass murder” – and was comparable to the actions of “doctors in pre-Nazi Germany”. Ofcom received 422 complaints that alleged these comments were “dangerous” and included “misinformation” that went “unopposed”.
It is important to stress that in line with the right to freedom of expression - broadcasters are free to transmit programmes that include controversial and challenging views, including about Covid-19 vaccines or conspiracy theories. However, alongside this editorial freedom, the Broadcasting Code imposes a clear requirement that if such content has the potential to be harmful, the broadcaster must ensure that its audience is adequately protected.
Our investigation concluded that GB News fell short of this requirement by allowing Naomi Wolf to promote a serious conspiracy theory without challenge or context - for example through other contributions in the programme or by the presenter, who appeared to support many of her comments. There was also no scrutiny of the evidence she claimed to hold to support her claims.
We also took into account that the programme presented Naomi Wolf as a figure of authority, with particular knowledge and expertise in the safety of the Covid-19 vaccines. We consider this would have lent credibility to her unchallenged claims. Of particular concern was her significant and alarming claim that “mass murder” was taking place through the rollout of the Covid-19 vaccinations, which she repeated three times.
We found that the comments made by Naomi Wolf had the potential to impact viewers’ decisions about their health and were therefore potentially harmful. Given that GB News did not take adequate steps to protect viewers from this potentially harmful content, we have found the channel in breach of Rule 2.1 of the Broadcasting Code.
This is the second significant breach of the Code recorded against GB News . In light of this, we are requesting that GB News attends a meeting with Ofcom to discuss its approach to compliance.
Naomi Wolf also appeared on the Mark Steyn programme the following day, and made further claims about Covid-19 vaccines. Her comments were put into context by other views expressed during the programme, and a banner broadcast throughout the segment informed viewers that Naomi Wolf had “faced widespread criticism for Covid research”. Taking this into account, we will not be pursuing these complaints further.
Covid, compliance and freedom of expression
Since March 2020, Ofcom has received over 26,000 complaints about TV and radio coverage relating to the Covid-19 pandemic. Reflecting the weight we place on the right to freedom of expression, the vast majority of these complaints did not raise issues under our rules.
We have opened 11 formal investigations where the content raised serious concerns. Of these cases, we have found nine programmes in breach of our rules, one was found not in breach, while one investigation remains ongoing. Find out more about our broadcast standards work in the Covid-19 pandemic.
Complaints received about GB News to date total 4,560, representing 1.6% of all broadcast complaints made to us during this period. Of these 1,714 related to the Covid-19 pandemic.
After careful assessment, the vast majority of complaints made against GB News have not been pursued.
We have launched four investigations into the channel, and this is the second breach of our broadcasting rules recorded against GB News since it launched in June 2021.
An earlier episode of the Mark Steyn programme broke our rules by presenting a materially misleading interpretation of official data without sufficient challenge or context, risking harm to viewers. Our investigation into Talking Pints with Nigel Farage (23 August 2021) – relating to offensive language – concluded that the programme was not in breach of our rules. We are currently investigating whether Saturday Morning with Esther and Philip broadcast on 11 March 2023 broke our rules requiring news and current affairs to be presented with due impartiality.