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A court has said Ofcom’s decisions on GB News regulations are “killing” a presenter’s career

The High Court has heard that a former GB News presenter’s career was “killed” twice by Ofcom finding his show breached the Broadcasting Code.

Mark Steyn is taking legal action against the regulator over its decisions in 2023 that two of its 2022 programs, both of which related to the Covid vaccine rollout, were in breach of its rules.

The Canadian broadcaster is asking a Supreme Court judge to overturn the decisions, with its lawyers arguing they lacked “clarity and consistency” and posed a risk of “obvious potential deterrent effect.”

But Ofcom’s lawyers say the regulator had the discretion to make decisions designed to protect the public from potential harm.

Speaking to a packed courtroom in London on Tuesday, Jonathan Price, on Steyn’s behalf, said: “The rulings against his program have killed his career, killed his career in the UK and given rise to what he describes as severe defamation… recycled by London newspapers as if they had the power convictions.”

The decisions concerned two separate broadcasts of Mr Steyn’s primetime show on GB News, which began with the presenter delivering a monologue known as “The Steyn Line”.

Price said the show “did not take an anti-vaccination approach” but instead “strongly criticized the purely binary position” on Covid-19 vaccines and featured guests who “questioned and challenged the official narrative”.

Ofcom’s first decision concerned a program broadcast on April 21, 2022, which covered Steyn’s monologue on the rollout of Covid-19 vaccines, based on data from the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA).

The watchdog received four complaints about the broadcast and on March 6, 2023 said it had breached its rules because it “provided a materially misleading interpretation” of the numbers “without sufficient challenge or counterweight,” which it said was likely to “cause harm to viewers.”

It also said the program “failed to heed” the UKHSA’s warning that raw data on Covid vaccines “should not be used to draw conclusions about vaccine effectiveness”.

The second decision concerned Steyn’s October 4, 2022 show, during which he interviewed author Naomi Wolf.

Last May, Ofcom said that during an interview, Dr Wolf compared the vaccine rollout to a “mass murder” that could be compared to the actions of “doctors in pre-Nazi Germany”.

Following the interview, 422 complaints were made to the regulator, which ruled on May 9 last year that GB News had failed to take “appropriate steps to protect viewers” from “potentially harmful content”, labeling Dr Wolf’s comments as promoting a “serious conspiracy theory”.

No statutory sanctions were imposed for any of the breaches, but GB News was asked to attend a meeting to discuss its approach to compliance with the code.

Steyn, who no longer works for the station, attended the hearing on Tuesday after arriving from the United States, which Dr Wolf also attended.

In written submissions, Jessica Boyd KC, representing Ofcom, said there was “no realistic basis” for the court to rule that the regulator “manifestly erred” in its decisions, adding that broadcasters’ rights to free speech were “not unqualified “.

She said: “Both decisions were correct in finding that the programs could cause potential harm to viewers’ rights by distorting their understanding of issues that are likely to have a significant impact on their health decisions in the context of the ongoing pandemic.”

Ms Boyd continued: “No decision was intended to prevent the complainant or his guests from expressing controversial views on important public health issues or questioning the credibility of official medical advice, including in an inflammatory or provocative form.

“He and they can do it as long as they follow the (Ofcom) code.”

The hearing before Judge Farbey is scheduled to end on Tuesday, with a written judgment expected to be delivered at a later date.