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

GB News said if the show "was guilty of anything, it was nothing more than a rather forceful tone".

By Charlotte Tobitt

GB News has been rebuked by Ofcom for the first time following “materially misleading” comments made about Covid-19 vaccines by presenter Mark Steyn in April last year.

Steyn quit GB News last month claiming he had been asked to sign a contract that the broadcaster could have used to make him personally liable for any Ofcom fines his show received.

Ofcom investigated Steyn’s 8pm show on 21 April 2022 after four complaints from viewers saying he had made “dangerous” and “fatally flawed conclusions” from UK Health Security Agency data.

In his monologue, he told viewers he was referring to official UKHSA data and said there was “only one conclusion from those numbers, which is that the third booster shot, so zealously promoted by the British state and its group-think media, has failed. And in fact, exposed you to significantly greater risk to infection, hospitalisation and death.”

He went on to quote figures that he said showed “the triple vaccinated are contracting Covid at approximately twice the rate of the double, single and unvaccinated.

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“Got that? If you get the booster shot, you’ve got twice as high a chance of getting the Covid. In the United Kingdom there’s twice as many people with the third booster shot who got the Covid as the people who never had the booster shot. It’s a widespread phenomenon…”

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Ofcom said these comments, and more in his monologue, were materially misleading because the way the data was presented did not take into account differences in age or health of the vaccinated and unvaccinated groups studied.

Ofcom also said the way the data had been interpreted was presented in a definitive fashion and that there was no “adequate counterweight or genuine challenge”. It pointed out that UKHSA itself had made clear the data should not be used to draw conclusions about the efficacy of the vaccine.

Overall Ofcom found Steyn breached Rule 2.2 of the Broadcasting Code, which states: “Factual programmes or items or portrayals of factual matters must not materially mislead the audience.”

GB News denied that it materially misled the audience, telling Ofcom “precise numbers of those who have died as a result of the vaccination is not yet clear – it is certainly several thousand – but The Steyn Line has been one of the few programmes scrutinising the available data to throw more light on the subject”.

It denied that Steyn’s programme was “anti-vax” and claimed the UKHSA data does show what Steyn said it did, although others “may have a different interpretation” and it was clear he had been giving his personal opinion.

GB News argued that if the programme “was guilty of anything, it was nothing more than a rather forceful tone”.

Ofcom said its rules allow broadcasters to transmit programmes that may be considered controversial and challenging or question official statistics, but added: “However, with this editorial freedom comes an obligation to ensure that, when portraying factual matters, audiences are not materially misled.”

“In this case, our investigation found that an episode of the Mark Steyn programme fell short of these standards – not because it exercised its editorial freedom to challenge mainstream narratives around Covid-19 vaccination – but because, in doing so, it presented a materially misleading interpretation of official data without sufficient challenge or counterweight, risking harm to viewers,” the regulator said.

GB News had argued a “clear alternative view” was provided in the next edition of the show, with Jamie Jenkins, former head of health analysis and labour market analysis at the Office for National Statistics, disagreeing with Steyn about his interpretation of the data. However, Ofcom said this did not act as mitigation because it was four days later and the initial programme had not indicated that any such follow-up would be taking place.

A separate Ofcom investigation into comments made about the Covid-19 vaccine rollout by guest Dr Naomi Wolf on the 4 October edition of Steyn’s show is ongoing.

Ofcom previously cleared an edition of Nigel Farage’s Talking Pints programme over the airing of “offensive language”.

Ofcom revealed on Monday that Ofcom has received 3,432 complaints about GB News since it launched in June 2021, representing 3% of all broadcast complaints made to the regulator in that time. Of these, 1,665 related to the Covid-19 pandemic.

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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.
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