Monday, 23 January 2012

Ofcom slaps ITV's wrists over game footage

Back in September of 2011 ITV dropped a bit of a clanger when they unwittingly included some footage from the video game ArmA 2 in a documentary about Colonel Gaddafi's links with the IRA. "Exposure: Gaddafi and the IRA" aired on ITV1 on Monday the 26th of September and purported to feature footage labelled as "IRA film 1988" (see video below).


This footage appeared within the opening minutes of the  programme and matches similar footage posted earlier in 2011 which claimed the video was footage of the Provisional IRA shooting down a British helicopter near Silverbridge in 1988. Clearly this was a case of ITV's fact-checking processes falling well short of something approaching acceptability especially given that the last time I checked, real life doesn't feature texture pop-ins.

Nevertheless ITV admitted that the mistake was a result of human error but that hasn't stopped them from having their wrists slapped by the British broadcast media regulator, Ofcom. Broadcast Bulletin, Issue 198 (23rd Jan 2012) found ITV to be in breach of standards following 26 viewer complaints about the game footage and other footage purporting to feature a riot in the Ardoyne area of Belfast in July 2011. Ofcom investigated the documentary under Rule 2.2 the Broadcasting Code which states:
“Factual programmes or items or portrayals of factual matters must not materially mislead the audience”.
ITV responded to the complaints by saying they had intended to portray two real events but that in each case the 'wrong footage' was used to illustrate them:
“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”
In attempting to explain how ITV could have used the wrong footage (from the game) they said they were aiming to use material that had featured in an episode of The Cook Report entitled "Blood Money" that was broadcast on 12th June 1989. However, this footage was heavily edited and production staff sought to source "a fuller and better version" of The Cook Report material. Nearly two months later the programe director discovered the footage from the internet which “he mistakenly believed...to be a fuller version of the footage used in the Cook Report”. It was ITVs claim that:
“Although there were clear differences between the two pieces of footage, his memory over the ensuing period of time let him down and led him to believe it was the same footage”
The programme director included this footage in the mistaken belief that it was the full material taken from The Cook Report - without having viewed the internet footage themselves.

Compliance?

Now all of this would be bad enough if it wasn't for the fact that a member of the ITV Compliance team also had doubts about the authenticity of the material during the production process, even asking questions of the producer about the veracity of the sound effects and pictures. The assurances given by the production staff to the ITV Compliance team member were accepted in 'good faith' despite neither the producer nor the director checking the footage.

ITV has since made improvements to its compliance processes - a case of lesson learned in order nto to make similar mistakes again. These include keeping a list of archive sources used, extra guidance issued to news, factual and current affairs staff, as well as compliance training changes for production teams.

Nevertheless, given that factual content should not mislead the public and that Ofcom has a duty under the Communications Act 2003 to set standards, the regulator has criticised ITV for breaching the rules and for damaging the trust relationship between viewer and broadcaster saying:
"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 a serious charge indeed. In fact, from the report Ofcom can scarcely believe that the programme makers could have been misled as there were "significant and easily identifiable differences" between the game footage and that material from the 1989 episode of The Cook Report pointing to "clear deficiencies"in the steps taken by both the production team and the compliance team to verify the content.

Oh dear. I guess ITV will have cancelled any plans to investigate the systematic slaying of dragons in Tamriel

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