UK radio station faces fine over two-hour Covid conspiracy programme

Birmingham station gave platform for false claims about a ‘plan-demic’ and 5G

Adam Forrest@adamtomforrest
Tuesday 08 December 2020 13:16
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Ofcom is considering whether to fine a radio station in Birmingham after one of its presenters discussed unfounded conspiracy theories about the coronavirus for two hours.

Host Simon Solomon featured wild, false claims – including the idea the virus was pre-planned by global governments to reduce the world’s population – on his Sunday evening New Style Radio show.

On his 1 November programme, the presenter shared the made-up “plan-demic” theory and the utterly discredited idea that 5G networks had helped spread the virus without challenge.

The broadcast regulator found Mr Solomon’s programme had violated the broadcasting code since it had contained “potentially harmful statements” about the pandemic “without adequate protection for listeners”.

New Style Radio told Ofcom it had suspended both Mr Solomon and his show, as well as issuing an apology on air. However, the watchdog is now considering whether to fine the station or issue any other sanctions – which could, at worst, see its licence revoked.

The watchdog’s 25-page ruling revealed Mr Solomon had argued his case in correspondence with Ofcom, claiming the “wors[t] that can be said” about his programme is that it should have contained the UK government’s viewpoint – which he referred to as the official “narrative”.  

Ofcom said Mr Solomon had a right to discuss the conspiracy theories, but to offer “substantial and robust” challenge the untrue claims and put them in context to protect local listeners in Birmingham.

Afro Caribbean Millennium Centre (ACMC), the licensee of New Style Radio, claimed told the regulator it had done “as much as any licensee could be reasonably expected to do”.

After suspending the presenter, the company said it broadcast another two-hour programme about Covid two weeks later to “rectify the harmful broadcasting”.

However, Ofcom now expects the station to broadcast a summary of its findings before deciding on sanctions.

A spokesperson for Ofcom told The Independent: “In line with freedom of expression, broadcasters are free to air views which question or differ from official public health information, but any unproven and potentially harmful claims must be sufficiently challenged and put into context.

“This programme promoted highly contentious, unevidenced conspiracy theories about the coronavirus without adequate challenge – with potentially serious consequences for public health. We have directed New Style Radio to broadcast a summary of our findings, and we’re considering whether to impose any further sanction.”

The Independent has contacted ACMC for comment on the findings.

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