Ofcom finds the Mark Steyn programme on GB News in breach of broadcasting rules
Ofcom has today found the Mark Steyn programme, which aired on GB News on 21 April 2022, in breach of our broadcasting rules.
We have been consistently clear that, under our 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, our 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. We 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, we concluded that the programme was potentially harmful and materially misleading, in breach of Rule 2.2 of the Broadcasting Code.
You can read our decision (PDF, 364.7 KB) in full.
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 eight programmes in breach of our rules, one was found not in breach, while two investigations remain ongoing. Find out more about our broadcast standards work in the Covid-19 pandemic.
This is the first breach of our broadcasting rules recorded against GB News since it launched in June 2021. Complaints received about the channel to date total 3,432, representing 3% of all broadcast complaints made to us during this period. Of these 1,665 related to the Covid-19 pandemic.
After careful assessment, the vast majority of complaints made against GB News have not been pursued. Aside from today’s decision, our earlier 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. An additional investigation into an episode of Mark Steyn, which aired on 4 October 2022, remains ongoing.