eNCA and e.tv fined over Covid-19 conspiracy episode on Gareth Cliff talk show

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Gareth Cliff.
Gareth Cliff.
Photo: e.tv
  • eNCA and e.tv have been fined R10 000 for contravening the broadcasting code.
  • Gareth Cliff interviewed a conspiracy theorist on his talk show who claimed that Covid-19 is a "pandemic hoax".
  • The BCCSA has also ordered eNCA and e.tv to broadcast an apology on the show.

The Broadcasting Complaints Commission of South Africa (BCCSA) has fined the South African TV news channel eNCA (DStv 403) and the commercial free-to-air channel e.tv with R10 000 for contravening the broadcasting code.

On 22 July eNCA and on 23 July e.tv broadcast a Gareth Cliff interview during his So What Now? talk show with the conspiracy theory guest David Icke who made multiple false statements around Covid-19.

Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) complained to the BCCSA and said that the broadcast was unlawful, harmful, and in breach of South Africa's broadcasting code.

MMA argued: "In the current context, as South Africa and the world grapple with the devastating effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, broadcasts of this nature that patently seek to spread disinformation should be carefully scrutinised, as they do not serve the public interest or further any meaningful engagement on the subject."

MMA said that eNCA as a news broadcaster has a heightened responsibility to ensure the credibility and truthfulness of the content that it disseminates.

MMA told the BCCSA in its submission that eNCA's Gareth Cliff show with David Icke "intentionally disseminated disinformation based on facts that were untrue", "promoted unlawful conduct that was in violation of the regulations issued under the Disaster Management Act" and that "by denying the existence of Covid-19 and claiming it to be a scam, the consequence of the broadcast may result in people not following appropriate precautionary and health measures in line with the advice of the relevant authorities".

According to Media Monitoring Africa, eNCA and e. tv's So What Now? "failed to effectively present opposing views", said that "the segment with David Icke did not include any other guests, which might have included a medical expert who could meaningfully counter David Icke's denial of the existence of COVID-19" and that Gareth Cliff "also did not effectively counter David Icke's denial, and acknowledged that he was neither a doctor nor a researcher on the subject".

"Moreover, Gareth Cliff also ended the broadcast by expressing his confusion, stating 'I hope you're as confused as I am'."

MMA in its submission said that eNCA and e.tv "have, at no stage, shown any contrition for their conduct".

"Rather, the broadcasters appear to have taken the view that the broadcast of disinformation is permissible and defensible, despite this being below the standard required of responsible broadcasters by the Codes. Not only was the programme broadcast twice – once on eNCA and thereafter on e.tv – it is further relevant that the programme remains accessible on the eNCA website to be viewed by anyone at any time."

The BCCSA ruled that: "We find that the potential harm to the population with this broadcast, and the host of the programme falling short by far to counter the misinformation divulged by David Icke, justify the imposition of a fine of R10 000." This joint fine must be paid by 15 November 2020.

The BCCSA also ordered eNCA and e.tv to broadcast an apology at the start of the first So What Now? episode broadcast in November 2020.

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