OFCOM finds against ITV’s computer game slip

You remember that computer game footage that was used to show what was supposed to be an IRA attempt to shoot down a British Army helicopter. The footage was included in an ITV network programme “Gaddafi and the IRA” shown on Sept 26, 2011. Well, not surprisingly OFCOM have found against them…

You can read the full report in their latest Broadcast Bulletin. But it seems it was not just the helicopter scenes that were, erm, finessed up but the riot scenes shot were not kosher either. The substance of both complaints stack up thusly:

  •  footage, labelled “IRA Film 1988”, which was described in the programme as film taken by the IRA of IRA members attempting to shoot down a British Army helicopter in June 1988. Viewers said that this footage was in fact material taken from a video game; and
  •  footage of police clashing with rioters in Northern Ireland, described in the  programme as being of a riot in the Ardoyne area of Belfast in July 2011. Viewers said that, due to the type of police riot vehicles shown in the footage, the footage must have been of an earlier riot.
The whole thing is worth reading. Not least this:

In reaching our decision, we took into account that, arguably, the potential harm caused in this particular case was limited, because: neither real event which the footage purported to represent was central to the narrative of the documentary; and both real events had already been widely reported, and in the case of the footage of the video game, had been in the public domain for many years. In addition, both pieces of footage were not purporting to make new or significant allegations against particular organisations or individuals.

However, we considered that these factors were not sufficient mitigation in this case, and that there is a fundamental requirement that broadcasters must not materially mislead the audience over the content of serious factual programming such as Exposure: Gaddafi and the IRA.

In previous cases, breaches of the Code that resulted in the audience being misled have always been considered by Ofcom to be amongst the most serious that can be committed by a broadcaster, because they go to the heart of the relationship of trust  between a broadcaster and its audience. This is particularly pertinent when it involves a public service broadcaster, as in the case here.

We take into account that ITV: apologised; removed the programme from its catch-up video-on-demand service; and, has now put in place various changes to its compliance procedures to ensure such incidents do not happen in future.

However, the viewers of this serious current affairs programme were misled as to the nature of the material they were watching. In the circumstances, this represented a significant breach of audience trust, particularly in the context of a public service broadcaster. As such, Ofcom considered the programme to be materially misleading, in breach of Rule 2.2.

Ofcom was particularly concerned by this compliance failure by ITV. We do not expect any issues of a similar nature to arise in future.

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty

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