View all newsletters
Sign up for our free email newsletters

Fighting for quality news media in the digital age.

  1. News
April 20, 2020updated 30 Sep 2022 9:11am

Ofcom sanctions London Live over ‘potentially harmful’ David Icke interview on coronavirus

By Charlotte Tobitt

Ofcom has sanctioned London Live, the TV channel of Evening Standard and Independent owner Evgeny Lebedev, after an interview with conspiracy theorist David Icke that “risked causing significant harm to viewers”.

The broadcast regulator said that Icke’s controversial views on the causes of coronavirus and the responses of governments were not challenged enough during the 80-minute interview, which aired on 8 April.

Ofcom said today: “While we acknowledge that David Icke has a right to hold and express these views, they risked causing significant harm to viewers who may have been particularly vulnerable at the time of broadcast.”

Its biggest concern came in relation to Icke’s comments “casting doubt on the motives behind official health advice to protect the public from the virus” as the regulator noted Icke’s claims were not borne from scientific or any other evidence.

“Ofcom stresses that there is no prohibition on broadcasting views which diverge from or challenge official authorities on public health information,” it said.

“However, in broadcasting David Icke’s unsubstantiated views without sufficient challenge or context, [London Live owner] ESTV failed in its responsibility to ensure that viewers were adequately protected.”

ESTV had told Ofcom it takes the Broadcasting Code “extremely seriously” and that its efforts to be compliant had included removing anything from the interview that could have been “considered to be medical advice or contrary to government guidance”.

Content from our partners
MHP Group's 30 To Watch awards for young journalists open for entries
How PA Media is helping newspapers make the digital transition
Publishing on the open web is broken, how generative AI could help fix it

Ofcom’s sanction means London Live must air a summary of its findings, while it is still deciding whether to impose any further penalty, though the TV station reportedly feels this would be “disproportionate”.

A London Live spokesperson said: “London Live respects Ofcom’s decision in this case and apologises for any harm this may have caused.”

Ofcom’s decision has come within just two weeks as it prioritises cases linked to coronavirus where broadcasts may have helped spread misinformation about the illness.

Eamonn Holmes

The regulator has also issued guidance to ITV and its presenters after This Morning presenter Eamonn Holmes commented on conspiracy theories linking coronavirus to the rollout of 5G technology, including that people “don’t know it’s not true”.

Ofcom said: “In our view, Eamonn Holmes’ ambiguous comments were ill-judged and risked undermining viewers’ trust in advice from public authorities and scientific evidence.”

The seriousness of this incident, which saw more than 400 complaints sent to Ofcom, was mitigated by a “fake news” caption relating to the discussion, comments by This Morning’s consumer editor Alice Beer that the theories were “not true” and “incredibly stupid”, and the fact Holmes read out a statement on air the next day saying he wanted to “make it clear there’s no scientific evidence to substantiate any of those 5G theories”.

It has been reported that as many as 50 cellphone towers have been set alight in arson attacks because of the coronavirus conspiracy theory.

In relation to both incidents, Ofcom said: “Broadcasters have editorial freedom to discuss and challenge the approach taken by public authorities to a serious public health crisis such as the coronavirus.

“However, discussions about unproven claims and theories which could undermine viewers’ trust in official public health information must be put fully into context to ensure viewers are protected.

“These responsibilities are especially important when ongoing events – such as mobile phone masts in the UK being attacked – risk significant harm to the public.”

Picture: London Live

Topics in this article : ,

Email to point out mistakes, provide story tips or send in a letter for publication on our "Letters Page" blog

Select and enter your email address Weekly insight into the big strategic issues affecting the future of the news industry. Essential reading for media leaders every Thursday. Your morning brew of news about the world of news from Press Gazette and elsewhere in the media. Sent at around 10am UK time. Our weekly does of strategic insight about the future of news media aimed at US readers. A fortnightly update from the front-line of news and advertising. Aimed at marketers and those involved in the advertising industry.
  • Business owner/co-owner
  • CEO
  • COO
  • CFO
  • CTO
  • Chairperson
  • Non-Exec Director
  • Other C-Suite
  • Managing Director
  • President/Partner
  • Senior Executive/SVP or Corporate VP or equivalent
  • Director or equivalent
  • Group or Senior Manager
  • Head of Department/Function
  • Manager
  • Non-manager
  • Retired
  • Other
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how New Statesman Media Group may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.
Thank you

Thanks for subscribing.

Websites in our network