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October 12, 2022updated 06 Mar 2023 11:35am

Ofcom opens second investigation into GB News’ Mark Steyn show vaccine claims

By Charlotte Tobitt

UPDATE: GB News broke Ofcom rules with Mark Steyn’s misleading Covid-19 comments

Update 12/10/22:  Ofcom has opened an investigation into an episode of Mark Steyn’s 4 October programme on GB News after it received 411 complaints from viewers about comments made by author and journalist Dr Naomi Wolf in relation to Covid-19 vaccines.

Ofcom said: “Specifically, our investigation will consider whether this programme broke our rules designed to protect viewers from harmful material.”

Wolf was banned from Twitter last year for spreading unfounded theories about vaccines.

Ofcom is already investigating Steyn’s show for a potential breach of standards on 21 April when he claimed people who had a Covid-19 booster vaccine were three times more likely to die than those who had two doses or fewer.

Nigel Farage and GB News cleared by Ofcom: Channel yet to be rebuked by regulator

GB News Ofcom cleared episode of Farage Talking Pints

Nigel Farage in Talking Pints on GB News on 23 August 2021. Picture: GB News Youtube screenshot

Original story 8/8/22: The first two investigations by broadcast regulator Ofcom into GB News have ended with no rebukes, keeping the TV channel’s record clean as it enters its 15th month.

Critics feared the opinion-led news channel would rub up poorly against the UK’s strict impartiality rules, a problem not faced by broadcasters in the US such as Fox News.

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But by balancing views from presenters and guests across its schedule, GB News has avoid any Ofcom rebukes despite airing some strident views on Covid-19 lockdowns and vaccines. Two Ofcom investigations into GB News TV and radio broadcasts remain ongoing.

On Monday, Ofcom’s complaints round-up revealed it had found Nigel Farage’s (pictured) Talking Pints programme at 7pm on 23 August last year, featuring darts legend Bobby George, had not been in breach of standards despite the airing of “offensive language”. The 13-minute conversation has received more than 68,000 views on Youtube, where such language cannot now be heard. The Guardian reported the swearing was by “anti-vaccine activists”.

The regulator also discontinued a separate investigation into an episode of the morning programme To The Point hosted by Patrick Christys and Inaya Folarin Iman on 4 April, which had looked at allegations of Russian war crimes in Ukraine and was being looked into for a potential breach of “fairness”. That video has 2,000 views on Youtube.

Ofcom GB News investigation

Patrick Christys on To The Point on GB News on 4 April 2022. Picture: GB News Youtube screenshot

Two investigations by Ofcom are ongoing, however. Canadian presenter Mark Steyn is being investigated for a potential breach of standards on 21 April when he claimed people who had a Covid-19 booster vaccine were three times more likely to die than those who had two doses or fewer. That video, which is now unlisted on Youtube, has received more than 58,000 views on the platform.

In a monologue that day, Steyn said: “Why aren’t we talking about this? It seems, if the booster shot is making it thrice as likely that you’re going to be deadsville, that they’re going to carrying you out by the handles, why aren’t we talking about that?”

Fact-checking charity Full Fact said the figures used by Steyn were “broadly accurate” but that he was “wrong to claim the booster ‘increases your chances of hospitalisation and death'”.

It said: “… using these figures to argue that the booster vaccine itself may be the reason for the different levels of Covid-19 infections, hospitalisations and deaths, ignores any other differences between the two groups which may affect these figures.”

A further standards investigation into another episode of To The Point on 2 March has also been launched, but only in relation to the GB News DAB radio simulcast which has just seen a 16% jump in its audience quarter-on-quarter in the latest RAJAR figures.

A viewer complained that a discussion by the presenters in that episode regarding the May by-election in Birmingham Erdington did not list all the candidates. An Ofcom spokesperson said: “We are investigating whether this programme broke our rules on the coverage of elections.”

In total Ofcom has received more than 2,300 complaints about GB News programmes since its launch on 13 June 2021. Most of these are one-off complaints, but the most-complained about programme with 447 recorded was the breakfast show hosted by Eamonn Holmes and Isabel Webster on 20 April in which Holmes took aim at Prince Harry, including by questioning why others in the royal family “hadn’t thrown Harry over the balcony”.

The second, with 392 complaints, remains Dan Wootton’s show on GB News’ first night in which he criticised Covid-19 lockdowns as a “crude measure” instigated by “doomsday scientists”. In third is Neil Oliver’s show from 16 July this year, with 67 complaints in relation to comments he made about Covid-19 vaccines.

No Ofcom investigations have yet been started into rival TalkTV, which Rupert Murdoch’s News UK launched in April. And since January 2020, when Ofcom changed how it publishes its complaints bulletins, there have been no investigations launched into Talkradio, the sister station that now shares simulcast content with TalkTV.

However in February 2020 Ofcom fined Talkradio £75,000 after finding George Galloway, sacked as a presenter in 2019 over an allegedly anti-Semitic tweet, had broken impartiality rules in three programmes in five months in 2018.

Three Ofcom standards investigations have been launched into rival radio station LBC since January 2020. Of those, one May 2021 news programme was found to be in breach of rules on both due accuracy and avoiding offence after a journalist referred to the Israeli Embassy in London as the “Jewish Embassy”.

Right-wing US broadcaster Fox News breached Ofcom impartiality rules twice in 2017, the year it stopped airing in the UK, both times for failing to include an adequate range of views.

Picture: GB News Youtube screenshot

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