GB News host broke rules with ‘misleading’ Covid-19 comments, Ofcom says
The GB News host Mark Steyn breached broadcasting rules after wrongly claiming there was a link between the Covid-19 vaccine and higher death rates, regulators have ruled.
TV watchdog Ofcom said that Mr Steyn had broken its regulations when he suggested there may be a link between the vaccination and “higher infection, hospitalisation and death rates.”
Ofcom said Mr Steyn, who has since left GB News, “presented a materially misleading interpretation of official data without sufficient challenge or counterweight, risking harm to viewers”.
The ruling is a fresh blow to the opinion-led news channel, which was founded in June 2021.
GB News’ launch was marked with technical difficulties and on-air bloopers as inexperienced staff grappled with studio lighting. Weeks later the channel went through a damaging public split with the broadcaster Andrew Neil, its founding chairman.
A GB News spokesman said the channel was disappointed by Ofcom’s finding and suggested that Mr Steyn was using the Government’s own data to highlight inconsistencies.
The spokesman said: “We support [Mr Steyn’s] right to challenge the status quo by examining the small but evident risks of the third Covid booster.
“In our 20 months and more than 11,000 hours of live broadcasting, this is Ofcom’s only finding against our television licence. It has not imposed a sanction.”
GB News’ first Ofcom sanction was handed down on Monday after the misleading claims were made during an episode of the Mark Steyn Show in April 2022.
Mr Steyn compared government figures about Covid-19 infection rates between people who had had the vaccine, those who had top-up shots and people who were not vaccinated.
He said: “So the triple vaccinated, in March , were responsible for just over a million Covid cases and everybody else 475,000 cases.
“The triple vaccinated are contracting Covid at approximately twice the rate of the double, single and unvaccinated.
“Got that? If you get the booster shot, you’ve got twice as high a chance of getting the Covid.”
The overwhelming scientific consensus is that Covid vaccines do not increase the likelihood of catching the disease, and that the protection afforded by the jab outweighs the very small risk of suffering an adverse reaction such as an allergy.
Ofcom said that Mr Steyn had failed to take into account other factors affecting the vaccinated and unvaccinated groups, such as significant differences in their age and general health. The regulator said it was not interfering with Mr Steyn or GB News’ freedom of speech.
It said: “We have been consistently clear that, under our rules, broadcasters are free to transmit programmes which may be considered controversial and challenging, or which question statistics or other evidence produced by governments or other official sources.
“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.”
A second Ofcom case against the channel, brought against it after vaccine-related comments made during an interview with the American author Naomi Wolf, remains under investigation.
Mr Steyn left the broadcaster in February when GB News made the unusual move of asking him to accept liability for any costs or fines incurred by his show.
Normally, broadcasters pay fines imposed by regulators if their journalists or presenters break Ofcom rules.
In a YouTube video in February, Mr Steyn said: “I’m on the hook there for Ofcom fines – but, and this is the important point, I don’t have any say in our defence against an Ofcom complaint. That’s all done by GB News.
“So Ofcom’s b—-, as I call the compliance officer, will be making the weedy, wimpy defence to Ofcom, and then I’m the one who has to pay the £40,000 fine or whatever it is.”