Ofcom warns broadcasters on airing ‘harmful health advice’ during crisis

Posted on: April 3, 2020 by Claire Meadows

Ofcom is prioritising cases linked to coronavirus and broadcasters are being asked to be mindful of giving airtime to false health advice around Covid-19 it has been announced.

The advice comes as Ofcom ruled against a local radio station yesterday for broadcasting baseless conspiracy theories during an on air broadcast.

The broadcast, on Uckfield FM, saw a guest identifying herself as a “registered nurse” linking the coronavirus spread to the rollout of 5G phone networks. The guest also cast doubt over whether the coronavirus symptoms being reported were indicative of the virus.

In ruling against the radio station, Ofcom warned that it would be “prioritising cases related to the Coronavirus which could cause harm to audiences”. In particular the regulator said that it would be monitoring broadcasts for: health claims related to the virus which may be harmful; medical advice which may be harmful; accuracy or materially misleading content in programmes in relation to the virus or public policy regarding it.

Following contact from Ofcom, Uckfield FM said that it took “immediate action” and said that the guest would not be interviewed on the station again, and any references to the interview on its social media channels had been removed. The Licensee also added that it was “reviewing” its interview procedures to prevent such an incident happening again.

In publicising the ruling, Ofcom said that while it recognised that during the Coronavirus crisis, licensees will want to broadcast content about the crisis and that dissemination of accurate and up-to-date information to audiences will be essential, broadcasters should be alert to the potential for significant harm to audiences related to the Coronavirus.

Licensees should be mindful of broadcasting “harmful health claims; harmful medical advice; and misleading statements about the virus or public policy regarding it” it said.

Consistent with freedom of expression, broadcasters can include content in their services about the Coronavirus, it added “but they must ensure they provide adequate protection for the audience from the inclusion of harmful material”.

Read the ruling in full here.