A Christian television channel founded by a Lagos-based megachurch pastor has been sanctioned by Ofcom for airing “potentially harmful statements” about the Covid-19 pandemic, including a baseless conspiracy that the virus is linked to the rollout of 5G phone network.
Programmes aired in early April on the LoveWorld Television Ministry, which broadcasts on satellite around the world, claimed there was a “global cover-up” over 5G networks being the cause of the pandemic.
The British regulator said the programme also echoed claims from US president Donald Trump that an anti-malaria drug, hydroxychloroquine, was a cure for the virus. The statements in April drew mass international criticism, with trials for the drug still inconclusive.
“LoveWorld News featured potentially harmful statements about the coronavirus pandemic and adequate protection was not provided to viewers,” a statement from Ofcom said.
“We have imposed a sanction on the broadcaster, requiring it to broadcast statements of our findings. We are considering whether to impose any further sanction,” the statement added.
Christian Oyakhilome, a Nigerian pastor, founded the network’s associated church, Christ Embassy, in Lagos in 1987. The church has at least 90 branches in the UK and an estimated 13 million followers around the world.
A news programme on LoveWorld, aired from South Africa on 7 April, was titled: “Why is 5G linked to Covid-19?” and claimed the technology was fuelling an outbreak of the virus.
“With the classification of a weapon, 5G technology is very dangerous. When it comes into contact with a human body it can provide some poisons to the cells … This shows that what’s killing people, it’s not coronavirus, but 5G,” a presenter on the programme said.
UK-based presenters on LoveWorld shows also reported on footage from a Fox News interview with a woman who claimed to have recovered from Covid-19 following the use of hydroxychloroquine. A presenter described the development as “good news” according to the regulator.
Oyakhilome has been critical of the lockdown measures that have forced places of worship to close around the world, and has himself propagated conspiracy theories about the virus.
About 30,000 people attend his main branch in Lagos, the Nigerian coastal metropolis where a lockdown has been imposed since the end of March.
In sermons in recent weeks, Oyakhilome has regularly cast doubt on the need for lockdowns, describing them and the wearing of protective face masks as unscientific.
In one LoveWorld programme, he pointed to an image showing a link between 5G and the virus, saying: “This is real. The power is so much that plants that were close to the cells that were already set up in certain streets burnt.”
Last year Christ Embassy was condemned by the UK’s charity watchdog, which found that there had been “serious misconduct”in the way that it was run. The Charity Commission found that Christ Embassy had made a large number of “informal grants and payments”, including more than £1.2m to LoveWorld TV between 2009-2011.