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GB News broke Ofcom rules with presenter’s Covid vaccine claims

GB News breached impartiality rules when the presenter Mark Steyn used official health data to draw misleading conclusions about the Covid-19 booster that “materially misled” the audience, the media regulator has found.

Ofcom said Steyn used UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) data in a broadcast on 21 April last year to wrongly claim the figures provided evidence that a third booster was causing higher infection, hospitalisation and deaths.

The investigation was launched in July 2022 after the watchdog received four complaints from viewers who said the presenter had made “dangerous” and “fatally flawed conclusions”. Steyn was previously one of the TV channel’s leading presenters before resigning last month after it demanded he personally pay the fines issued if found in breach of the broadcasting code.

Ofcom said Steyn’s comparison of similar-sized groups who had and had not received the third Covid vaccine was “misleading” for only drawing one conclusion from the comparison and not taking into account the differences in age or health of the individuals in the two groups. It said the programme failed to reflect the official UKHSA reports that said conclusions surrounding vaccine efficacy should not be drawn from raw data.

“Overall, we concluded that this factual programme may have resulted in viewers making important decisions about their health, and it was therefore potentially harmful and materially misleading,” the regulator said of the breach.

The independent factchecking website Full Fact previously said Steyn’s claim was based “on an inaccurate reading of a vaccine surveillance report, which specifically includes a caveat warning that the data can’t be used to determine vaccine effectiveness”.

Responding to the regulator’s findings on Monday, the head of policy at Full Fact, Glen Tarman, said GB News’s viewers deserved information they could trust.

“Full Fact has repeatedly contacted GB News about unsubstantiated or false claims made on their programmes without receiving a response. Every broadcaster should be prepared to get their facts right, back up what they say with evidence, and correct the record when they get things wrong,” said Tarman.

“We hope GB News will correct the record in light of Ofcom’s findings today.”

UK broadcasting law requires factual programmes or portrayals of factual matters must not mislead the audience. GB News faces a second formal investigation regarding its coverage of the coronavirus vaccine after the author Naomi Wolf claimed women were being harmed by Covid vaccines as part of an effort to “to destroy British civil society”, again on the Mark Steyn show.

Steyn, who has been off air since last year after two heart attacks, previously told fans on his personal website that he used to call GB News’s in-house compliance officer “Ofcom’s bitch” when they argued about what he was allowed to say on air.

The channel has regularly provided a platform to individuals critical of the scientific response to Covid and has attracted a steady stream of Ofcom complaints about its output, although few have progressed to the stage of formal investigations.

The right-leaning TV channel, now found in breach of the broadcasting code for the first time, started 2023 with an attempt to make its operation more “disciplined”.

Alan McCormick, the GB News chair, said all staff would be put on mandatory Ofcom training to avoid repeatedly falling foul of the regulator’s broadcasting code.

A spokesperson for the channel said: “We are disappointed by Ofcom’s finding. 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 Covid vaccines.”

They added: “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.” The Guardian

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