Ofcom has decided not to fine London Live after it broadcast a “potentially harmful” interview with conspiracy theorist David Icke, citing the importance of freedom of expression.
The TV channel owned by Evening Standard and Independent owner Evgeny Lebedev has already been forced to broadcast a summary of Ofcom’s finding that it breached the section of the Broadcasting Code protecting viewers from harmful material.
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The offending episode of the London Real programme broadcast on 8 April saw Icke (pictured) claim that public health advice on social distancing was intended to undermine the world economy and establish a new social order controlled by a cult, and not to curb the spread of Covid-19.
Ofcom said the programme did not sufficiently challenge Icke’s claims, which risked undermining confidence in public authorities and discouraging viewers from following social distancing rules.
London Live broadcast a statement summarising Ofcom’s decision at 10pm on 22 April, exactly two weeks after the original programme, before the regulator decided whether to take any further action.
Ofcom took into account how the channel attempted to mitigate the harm from the interview before it aired – including displaying a full-screen disclaimer pointing to the Government’s coronavirus website before each segment of the programme and removing sections it considered to be contrary to official advice.
London Live licensee ESTV said its decision to broadcast the interview was an editorial judgment and urged Ofcom to consider freedom of expression as a matter of “paramount importance”.
Ofcom said: “In reaching our decision on whether to impose any further sanction in this case, Ofcom took careful account of the fundamental importance of freedom of expression.
“We acknowledged that the programme was broadcast during a period in which the UK Government’s lockdown policy to encourage social distancing in response to the coronavirus crisis has led to an unprecedented restriction on public freedoms in peacetime.
“Given the high level of public concern about the coronavirus pandemic, it is clearly legitimate and in the public interest for broadcasters to question public policy and the rationale behind it and to robustly hold the Government to account, but in doing so they must ensure compliance with the code.
“Our rules do not prohibit the broadcast of controversial or outlandish views, such as those of David Icke. However, broadcasters must ensure that such views are properly contextualised so as to comply with the Code.”
The regulator concluded that although the Broadcasting Code makes clear viewers must be protected from potentially harmful material, the airing of a mandated statement can be deterrent enough from further breaches of the code as it is an imposition on airtime.
It added that “the imposition of any form of sanction on a broadcaster is a serious matter as it interferes with the broadcaster’s fundamental right to freedom of expression”.
Ofcom’s most serious potential sanctions include a financial penalty and the shortening or revocation of a licence.
Picture: London Live