Loveworld Television Network was found to have made the violation back in January after a 29-hour show titled The Global Day of Prayer featured sermons with “potentially harmful” claims about Covid-19 – including that the virus was “planned” and created by the “deep state”, and vaccines were a “sinister” means of administering “nanochips” to control people.
Ofcom had already ordered Loveworld not to repeat the programme and to broadcast a summary of its decision three times in a day, but has now issued the fine after concluding the breaches were “serious, repeated and reckless”.
It marks the second time in a year that the regulator has ruled against Loveworld Limited for unsubstantiated claims made about Covid-19 on air.
In April 2020, Loveworld broadcast false claims that the cause of coronavirus was linked to the rollout of 5G technology.
During one of the network’s news programmes, a presenter claimed the bogus link represented “the largest global cover-up in history”, and continued: “This is not coronavirus, but cell poisoning. Remember 5G started in China. Wuhan is one of the provinces where 5G has been rolled out.”
Loveworld was made to explain on air how it was found to have broken the rules, but no further action was taken against the channel in that case.
Ofcom later said the Christian network had promised to review all its broadcasts to avoid repetition of the 5G conspiracy, use a time-delay so live programmes could be edited and educate staff on compliance with Ofcom’s code.
In its ruling on Wednesday, Ofcom stressed that legitimate debate was “fundamental to holding public authorities to account” during global crises such as the pandemic, but said the “inaccurate and potentially harmful claims” made during The Global Day of Prayer show could not go unpunished because they were “unsupported by any factual evidence and went entirely without challenge”.
The regulator also said it was particularly concerned that the repeat breach came after Loveworld had pledged to improve compliance.
A statement from Ofcom, separate to the decision report, said: “Loveworld’s failure to put these unsubstantiated statements into context risked serious harm to its audience.
“They had the potential to undermine confidence in public health measures put in place to tackle Covid-19 – at a time when cases, hospital admissions and deaths were rising in the UK, and when people were looking for reliable information given advances in the vaccination programme.”
Loveworld, also known as Christ Embassy, is an evangelical Christian ministry founded in Nigera and led by a pastor called Chris Oyakhilome.
The Independent has contacted Loveworld for comment.