The Nadir of Local TV

The Nadir of Local TV

Local TV has been a failure since the start. It was started on a fallacy, and has proved uneconomic, with most of the stations licenced (Ofcom has stopped licencing new services) rolled into a single service with minimal local output.

But London Live has lived on.

Owned by Evgeny Lebedev, also the owner of the London Evening Standard it has struggled despite a prime position in the EPG. It’s output is mostly made up of old films, BFI back catalogue (no problem there) and lots of old Channel 4 programmes.

But none of that is why the channel is supposed to exist. It’s supposed to be there for Londoners.

However, it scraped the bottom of the barrel last night when it broadcast a 105 minute programme called London Real: Covid-19.

Was this a fast turnaround documentary on the global pandemic? Lots of channels have made those.


It’s a longform interview with professional “conspiracy theorist” David Icke. The programme was basically an excuse to let Icke spout his dangerous and simply wrong views for an hour and forty five minutes on television.

The episode is part of a series called London Real which itself is a YouTube channel. It’s not clear whether London Live actually pays a fee to broadcast the shows that seem to usually be made available on YouTube. The presenter is a man called Brian Rose, and based on the show I saw, he’s not exactly Andrew Neil. While he set out his stall at the start of programme, saying that he believed that Covid-19 is a pandemic and that we should follow government advice, that was was as far as he went. He lobbed a soft-ball to Icke, and then let the man speak for around five minutes.

The interviewer didn’t challenge anything that Icke said. To call it an interview would be a disservice.

Now judging from Rose’s YouTube channel, he’s loved getting Icke in as a guest, and he’s had him before. The channel is prolific, uploading 6-8 videos a day, seemingly with short vlogs as well as longer form interviews. At least six videos seem to be promoting his Icke video in some way (the “interview” itself is not on the channel – I imagine because of YouTube’s rules).

But never mind any of that, why is an Ofcom licenced station broadcasting the views of this man?

I managed a full hour of the “interview” before I had to stop watching. But during that time, Icke said the symptoms were overblown – he’d had similar symptoms before Christmas and was just fine. He thought the strain in Italy and Iran was deadlier – based on zero knowledge. He said that Bill Gates wanted to develop a vaccine that implanted tracking technology in your body. And there were simply loads more. Because the “interview” was basically Icke talking non-stop, he was probably spouting one conspiracy theory every few seconds.

To be clear, this is really dangerous stuff when we’re in the midst of a global pandemic.

In recent days and weeks, social media and messaging apps have facilitated all kinds of misinformation to be spread ranging from how you can tell if you’ve got the virus, through to utter bilge about it being linked to 5G.

A community radio station had Ofcom fast track complaints about an interview they aired. The station faces serious sanctions as a consequence. That’s because we’ve even seen mobile phone masts be vandalised as a result of this quackery – at a time when our emergency services, and the population in general, is reliant on the communications those masts provide.

London Live can only be airing this for the ratings. But I can’t any way that they won’t get hit hard by Ofcom.

Ofcom can only act retroactively, which is actually a good thing. But if a station breaks the rules, they do need to suffer the consequences in an appropriate manner. Every broadcast TV and radio station in the UK has to abide by Ofcom’s Broadcast Code, which includes a full section on due impartiality and accuracy.

For example, 5.11 says: “…due impartiality must be preserved on matters of major political and industrial controversy and major matters relating to current public policy by the person providing a service (listed above) in each programme or in clearly linked and timely programmes.”

It seems clear that this programme breaches that code on multiple counts.

For some reason London Live believed that by placing a caption at the start of the programme, and after each ad-break (see above) – basically disavowing the views therein – they were somehow fine.

I strongly suspect that they’ll be shown to be wrong on that.

The term “conspiracy theory” I believe underplays the seriousness and the intent of people who espouse those views. “Theory” perhaps conveys the idea that it’s a possibility. And look: we’re human, and we love a good conspiracy.

But these kinds of “theories” aren’t harmless. They’re dangerous. Deadly in fact.

As I write, the total reported UK death toll has topped 7,000. Many more will absolutely certainly follow. Our NHS workers, care workers and many others are battling this virus on the frontline – and they too are dying. This isn’t a joke. This isn’t about TV ratings or YouTube views.

Local television has failed as a project.

London Live has failed its viewers on a much deeper level. It should be ashamed of itself.