In a rare event, Ofcom have upheld an issue with ITV. The broadcaster has been found to have mislead viewers over the documentary Gaddafi and the IRA, broadcast as part of the Exposure series.
The current affairs programme investigated the financial and military links between the former Libyan leader, Colonel Gaddafi, and the Irish Republican Army.
26 viewers contacted the television regulator Ofcom with concerns over some of the archive footage contained within the documentary, footage which today has been deemed as misleading.
One piece of footage, labeled as an IRA film from 1988, was noted in the programme as showing a recording by the IRA attempting to shoot down a British Army helicopter. Vigiant viewers noted that the footage was not by the IRA nor from 1988 and instead was taken from a video game.
Another item noted for misleading viewers was that of 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 noted that due to the type of police riot vehicles shown in the footage, the sequence must have been recorded at an earlier riot.
Ofcom found that the Exposure programme warranted investigating after it potentially breached their rule 2.2: “Factual programmes or items or portrayals of factual matters must not materially mislead the audience”.
ITV responded to the issue by stating that the programme had included footage intended to portray two real events, the IRA ground attack on a British Army helicopter in June 1988 and clashes between rioters and police in Belfast in July 2011.
However, ITV apologised for the fact that in each case the “wrong footage” was used to illustrate both events. ITV added that both “mistakes were the result of human error and not an intention to mislead viewers. In both cases, steps were taken to verify the content of the footage used but unfortunately these did not reveal the errors”.
ITV believed the helicopter footage was from “a genuine incident”, which had been included in an episode of the investigative journalism programme The Cook Report produced by Central Television.
However the footage contained in the 1989 produced Blood Money edition of The Cook Report had been edited and producers sought to find a longer sequence of the IRA attempting to shoot down the Army helicopter in June 1988.
Production staff tried to source “a fuller and better version” of the Cook Report footage and during the editing process the programme director viewed footage from the internet which ITV say “he mistakenly believed…to be a fuller version of the footage used in the Cook Report”.
ITV add that: “Although there were clear differences between the two pieces of footage, his memory over the ensuing period of time [around eight weeks] let him down and led him to believe it was the same footage.” The internet clip’s description of the video game Arma 2 also lead ITV staff to believe it was actual footage of an event rather than fiction. The producer also failed to watch the Cook Report footage alongside the videogame clip from the internet.
The footage was questioned by an ITV Compliance team member who raised concerns about the sound effects and pictures in the clip with the producer however neither the producer nor the director ever cross-checked the internet footage with the Cook Report footage blaming the failure to do so on the pressure they were under in meeting the deadline for the broadcast of the production.
On the footage of the supposed July 2011 Belfast Riot ITV said that “although the incident referred to in the programme did happen, the footage used to illustrate it was incorrect. The footage used was of an earlier riot, not the riot in 2011”. ITV said that during the production process, the programme producer had requested footage of the July 2011 Ardoyne riot from a local historian “who has supplied footage to various broadcasters in the past”, and who, therefore, the producer considered to be a trustworthy source. However, the historian provided footage of an “earlier riot” that had occurred in the Ardoyne area of Belfast several years before 2011.
ITV said that “this mistake was the result of human error and not a deliberate attempt to mislead viewers”. In summary, ITV said that as soon as it became aware of the two instances of incorrect footage in the programme it: apologised to viewers who contacted ITV directly about these matters; and removed the programme from the ITV Player service. ITV have also reviewed and changed its compliance system.
Ofcom noted that Exposure was a serious current affairs programme which documented the financial and military support given by Colonel Gaddafi to the IRA. The regulator noted that according to ITV both mistakes in this case were the result of human error, and that some steps were taken to verify the content of the footage used.
“However, apart from the way ITV says the internet footage was labelled, the specific steps taken by the programme makers were unclear, and we were greatly concerned that ITV and the programme makers failed to take sufficient measures to authenticate the two separate pieces of archive film footage.” Ofcom state, adding, “There were significant and easily identifiable differences between the footage of the attack on the helicopter included in the 1989 Cook Report and the footage taken from the internet from the video game, “Arma 2‟. Given these marked differences, we were very surprised that the programme makers believed the footage of the helicopter attack was authentic, and we were particularly concerned that ITV failed to double-check the video game internet footage against the footage from the Cook Report,”
Ofcom stated they have taken into account that ITV firstly apologised and then removed the programme from its catch-up video-on-demand service. The regulator also notes that ITV has now put in place various changes to its compliance procedures to ensure such incidents do not happen in future.
However, due to the factual nature of the programme, Ofcom considered the programme to be materially misleading, in breach of Rule 2.2.