A UK community radio station claimed the outbreak of coronavirus was tied to 5G technology. Now, that station, Uckfield FM, must broadcast the UK broadcast regulator OfCom’s ruling against it for airing “unfounded claims” about coronavirus.
In an April 2 ruling, OfCom found that Uckfield FM’s Feb. 28 program “featured potentially harmful statements about the coronavirus.” OfCom noted it is “prioritising cases related to the Coronavirus which could cause harm to audiences.”
The program in question interviewed a woman identified as a registered nurse who claimed a link between the positive coronavirus cases in Wuhan, China, and the roll out of 5G technology in China. The host commented at one point, “we are getting into conspiracy theory territory here,” which the guest denied. The guest further suggested doctors and nurses shouldn’t necessarily be trusted and told listeners “do your own research. Do not trust a qualification.”
When challenged by OfCom, Uckfield FM admitted that overall the interview wasn’t acceptable, promised not to interview the guest again and unpublished the interview from social media. Uckfield FM also apologized and said it was “reviewing” how it handles interviews to create a new policy.
“We recognise that during the Coronavirus crisis, Ofcom licensees will want to broadcast content about the crisis and that dissemination of accurate and up-to-date information to audiences will be essential,” OfCom ruled. “However, broadcasters should be alert to the potential for significant harm to audiences related to the Coronavirus, which could include: harmful health claims; harmful medical advice; and misleading statements about the virus or public policy regarding it. Consistent with freedom of expression, broadcasters can include content in their services about the Coronavirus, but they must ensure they provide adequate protection for the audience from the inclusion of harmful material.”
OfCom found that because of the coronavirus crisis, “listeners would have been particularly vulnerable to any misleading or unsubstantiated claims that could be potentially harmful to them,” and noted that there wasn’t any “reputable scientific evidence” to the claims. Further, OfCom added, “We were significantly concerned that listeners may have been led to believe that they were being misled by mainstream sources of information about the virus.”