Ofcom ponders Covid-19 conspiracy fine for radio station - Press Gazette

Birmingham's New Style Radio condemned by Ofcom over two-hour show promoting Coronavirus conspiracy theories

Covid-19 conspiracy theories

Ofcom is considering whether to fine a Birmingham community radio station after a presenter spent two hours discussing Covid-19 conspiracy theories.

Coronavirus misinformation shared by Simon Solomon, who has presented New Style Radio’s Sunday night show The Family Programme for 18 years, included claims the virus is pre-planned by Governments to reduce the world’s population, that it is made worse by 5G, and that face masks are harmful.

The programme is billed as helping people recapture “holistic, spiritual and supportive family values” with a “truth-centred perspective”.

Solomon later doubled down on what he had said about the “so-called pandemic” in subsequent correspondence with Ofcom, although he accepted he had breached the Broadcasting Code.

He told the regulator the “wors[t] that can be said” about his programme was it should have contained the Government’s viewpoint, but added the official “narrative” had been described by many as “scaremongering, a breach of… human rights… and a draconian approach to dealing with a disease that hundreds of professionals have suggested is no more than a ‘bad flu’”.

During his 6pm programme on 1 November, the day after the second lockdown in England was announced, Solomon discussed at length two documents by a former United Nations editor and trainer, Claire Edwards, titled The COVID-19 Genocide of 2020 and Our Children Are Now In Grave Danger.

Solomon repeated the “plan-demic” theory that Covid-19 is a pre-planned Government hoax to reduce the world’s population. He shared without challenge the idea that “Government and WHO policies are deliberately aimed at killing people”.

He presented widely discredited theories that 5G technology is dangerous and has helped to spread the outbreak.

The presenter also repeated claims from Edwards’ paper that face masks provide no protection from Covid-19 and actually “cause serious neurological and respiratory damage”, and cast doubt on the motives behind a vaccine, claiming it would contain behaviour-controlling microchips.

As well as quoting from Edwards’ documents, Ofcom decided Solomon had also endorsed her claims throughout, including by telling listeners the information was “really being shared” to give them “an insight into the plans of certain peoples across this beautiful planet to decrease the population and give you a better understanding as to how to respond to the actions being taken by governments”.

[Read more: Cash for conspiracies: How David Icke, ‘alternative’ media and tech giants make money from coronavirus conspiracies]

New Style Radio, licensed by the Afro Caribbean Millennium Centre, told Ofcom it had suspended Solomon and his show, and issued an on-air apology.

It also broadcast a further two-hour coronavirus programme in the same time slot two weeks later to “rectify the harmful broadcasting” and counter all the conspiracy theories Solomon put forward.

The station has since rejoined the Community Media Association to “improve [its] connections within the wider community radio sector and to gain further knowledge on compliance and other best practice issues”.

In its ruling that the broadcast was in “serious” breach of Rule 2.1 (protection from harmful or offensive material) of the Broadcasting Code, Ofcom said it was concerned by the potential significant harm to listeners.

“The licensee dedicated a two-hour programme to discussing several highly contentious, unevidenced conspiracy theories about the coronavirus, without sufficient challenge or context.

“The promotion of these theories by the programme had the potential to undermine confidence in public health advice about the Coronavirus, and compliance with measures intended to safeguard public health during the pandemic.”

There was a high prevalance of Covid-19 in the West Midlands at the time of the broadcast which Ofcom said meant listeners were “likely to have been particularly vulnerable to any misleading or unsubstantiated claims”.

Ofcom added that although Solomon had a right to discuss the conspiracy theories, it was the station’s responsibility to offer “substantial and robust” challenge the theories and put them in context to protect listeners.

“In our view, the absence of credible evidence for the theories and their highly controversial nature should be indicated clearly to audiences, along with any other appropriate methods,” the regulator said.

The radio station must now broadcast a summary of Ofcom’s 25-page decision and the regulator is still considering whether to impose any further sanction, which could result in a fine or at worst its licence being revoked.

The station said it believed it had done “as much as any licensee could be reasonably expected to do to prevent the breach in the first place and subsequently to ensure that there is no repetition of such a breach”, pointing out that Solomon was “very experienced” and “knowledgeable” and therefore it “could not have possibly… envisaged” that he would present such a programme.

Ofcom has fast-tracked complaints related to coronavirus that it considers could cause potential harm to the public.

Earlier this year it ruled on breaches of the Broadcasting Code by Evening Standard owner Evgeny Lebedev’s TV station London Live, and another community radio station, Uckfield FM.

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