Petition Public Inquiry into Ofcom's guidance on broadcast standards during the pandemic
Open an independent Public Inquiry into Ofcom's guidance on broadcast standards during the coronavirus pandemic. This should consider whether this guidance prevented discussion of concerns about vaccines, and whether that resulted in unnecessary injuries or deaths, or symptoms being ignored.
Guidelines from May 2020 suggests that broadcasters take particular care when broadcasting “statements that seek to question or undermine the advice of public health bodies on the Coronavirus, or otherwise undermine people’s trust in the advice of mainstream sources of information about the disease”.
This may have made broadcasters less likely to broadcast content of experts and whistleblowers who were critical of Government policy on the vaccination rollout.
We believe these guidelines also create barriers for victims of vaccine injuries to make their stories heard.
This response was given on 24 March 2023
A public inquiry into Ofcom's guidance on broadcast standards during the Covid-19 pandemic is not required. The UK Covid-19 Inquiry has been set up to examine the impact of the pandemic.
Ofcom is the UK’s regulator for broadcasting and by law carries out its duties independently of the Government. The Government is committed to a free and independent media and does not interfere with Ofcom's regulatory or operational decisions, including how content is regulated. It is the Government’s view that a public inquiry is not necessary as the guidance Ofcom produced for broadcasters during the pandemic provided advice to broadcasters on how to conform to existing rules, it did not introduce new restrictions on broadcast content.
Ofcom is required by legislation, and accountable to Parliament, to draw up and enforce a Broadcasting Code for television to ensure that audiences are adequately protected from harm. Within the Code, there are rules in place to ensure that news, in whatever form, is reported with due accuracy and presented with due impartiality. During the coronavirus pandemic, Ofcom set out that they expect broadcasters to be alert to the potential for significant harm to audiences related to the coronavirus, including health claims related to the virus which may be harmful, medical advice which may be harmful, and accuracy or material misleadingness in programmes in relation to the virus or public policy regarding it. Ofcom also stated that, consistent with the right to freedom of expression, broadcasters have the editorial freedom to analyse, discuss and challenge issues related to the coronavirus. More detail on Ofcom’s regulation of broadcast standards during the pandemic can be found here: https://www.ofcom.org.uk/tv-radio-and-on-demand/information-for-industry/guidance/broadcast-standards-and-coronavirus.
Ofcom’s guidance was also subject to an application for judicial review by the Free Speech Union in 2020. Permission was refused, with Mr Justice Fordham concluding that there was no realistic prospect of a court finding that the guidance was incompatible with the right to freedom of expression. More information on this decision can be found here: https://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Admin/2020/3390.html.
According to Ofcom data published on 6 March 2023, since March 2020 Ofcom has received over 26,000 complaints about TV and radio coverage relating to the Covid-19 pandemic. The vast majority of these complaints did not raise issues under Ofcom rules. Ofcom has opened 11 formal investigations where the content raised serious concerns. Of these cases, Ofcom has found eight programmes in breach of broadcasting rules, one was found not in breach, and two investigations remain ongoing. As the UK’s independent regulator, it is for Ofcom to determine whether there has been a breach of the Broadcasting Code, and whether to take action. In making any decision, Ofcom has to strike a balance between ensuring freedom of expression and protection from harm.
The UK Covid-19 Inquiry has been set up to examine the UK’s response to and impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, and learn lessons for the future. More information on this inquiry and how to share your experiences of the Covid-19 pandemic can be found here: https://covid19.public-inquiry.uk/about/.
Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport
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