Christian TV channel fined by Ofcom over Covid conspiracy theories | Television industry

A Christian TV channel has been fined £25,000 by the UK broadcasting regulator for airing misleading and harmful statements about coronavirus, including that the rollout of 5G mobile networks caused the pandemic.

Programmes aired at the height of the first wave last year on LoveWorld, which holds a UK broadcasting licence and is beamed around the world, claimed there was a “global cover-up” over the technology being the cause of the health crisis.

At the time BT, which owns mobile operator EE and the Openreach subsidiary responsible for the UK’s broadband network, was facing attacks on its engineers and mobile phone masts as the false conspiracy theory was circulated.

Another report by LoveWorld Television Ministry presented the antimalarial drug hydroxychloroquine as a “cure” for Covid-19, without acknowledging that its efficacy and safety as a treatment was clinically unproven, or making it clear that it had potentially serious side-effects.

The British media regulator, Ofcom, said the programme echoed claims by the former US president Donald Trump about the antimalarial medication, which drew mass international criticism.

“The presenters make a number of unevidenced, materially misleading and potentially harmful statements about the coronavirus pandemic and vaccines, which were broadcast without providing adequate protection for viewers,” the regulator said in its ruling.

“Ofcom considered these breaches to be serious. We previously directed LoveWorld not to repeat the programmes. Given the seriousness of the breaches, we also consider a further statutory sanction [of £25,000] is warranted.”

A news programme aired last April titled “Why is 5G linked to Covid-19?” broadcast the claim that the mobile broadcast technology was a “very dangerous … weapon”.

“When it comes into contact with a human body it can provide some poisons to the cells … This shows that what’s killing people, it’s not coronavirus, but 5G,” said a presenter.

A sermon that was broadcast also cast “serious doubt” on the need for lockdown measures and the motives behind official health advice on Covid-19, including in relation to vaccination, Ofcom said.

“Ofcom is clear that it is legitimate for broadcasters to discuss and scrutinise the government’s public health response to the coronavirus pandemic … and that it may be in the public interest to do so,” said Ofcom.

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“However, LoveWorld’s presentation of misleading claims without sufficient challenge or context risked causing serious potential harm to viewers, at a time when people were particularly likely to be seeking reliable information relating to the UK’s vaccination programme.”

Christian Oyakhilome, a Nigerian pastor, founded the TV network’s associated church, Christ Embassy, in Lagos in 1987. The church has at least 90 branches in the UK and an estimated 13 million followers around the world.

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