Mark Steyn show on GB News breached Ofcom code with Covid claims

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Ofcom has ruled that an episode of the Mark Steyn show on GB News broke its broadcasting rules and was “potentially harmful and materially misleading”.

The watchdog said the episode on April 21 2022 saw the Canadian author and presenter “incorrectly 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.

Steyn was a presenter at the channel until earlier this year when he left amid a dispute over contract terms he claimed could have made him personally liable for Ofcom fines.

His programme also faces a second ongoing Ofcom investigation into comments made by a guest, author and journalist Naomi Wolf, about the vaccine on October 4.

On Monday, Ofcom said it had ruled the programme breached rule 2.2 of its code, which states that factual programmes “must not materially mislead the audience”.

However, it added there would be no fine or other sanction, despite the breach being “significant”.

It added in a statement: “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.”

The watchdog said its investigation found the 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”.

Ofcom said the way the data was presented to viewers did not take account of the “significant differences in age or health of people in the vaccinated and unvaccinated groups studied”.

There was also no “adequate counterweight or genuine challenge”.

Steyn presented the station’s 8pm peak-time slot but was forced to take time off starting last year following two heart attacks.

He continues to post regularly on his website SteynOnline.

Following the ruling he tweeted a photo featuring the messages “The Ministry of Truth rules…” and “Steyn Found Guilty!”

A spokesperson for GB News said they were “disappointed” by the finding.

They added: “Our role in media is to ask tough questions, point out inconsistencies in government policy, and hold public bodies to account when the facts justify it. Mark Steyn’s programme did exactly that.

“We support his right to challenge the status quo by examining the small but evident risks of the third Covid booster

“As news stories in the last week have highlighted, it was prescient to question whether the government was candid with all the facts.

“It is an important story in the public interest. Mr Steyn looked at evidence from the government’s own health data. He drew a reasonable conclusion from the facts. However, he drew only one conclusion.

“We accept that the data offered several valid interpretations, and he should have made this clear.

“Had he done so, the story would have remained within the wide freedoms that Ofcom’s Broadcast Code allows.”

This is GB News’s first breach of Ofcom’s broadcasting rules since it launched in June 2021.

So far there have been 3,432 complaints about the channel – about 3% of all broadcast complaints made to Ofcom during this period.

Of these 1,665 related to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Since March 2020, Ofcom has received more than 26,000 complaints about TV and radio coverage relating to the pandemic.

It said that “reflecting the weight we place on the right to freedom of expression” the majority of these did not raise issues under its rules.

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