Media regulator Ofcom has ruled that ITV committed a “significant breach of audience trust” by airing footage in a documentary they claimed to be from an IRA training video, which was actually from a video game.
Twenty six individuals complained to Ofcom after Exposure: Gaddafi and the IRA was broadcast on ITV1 in September last year, prompting an apology from the commercial broadcaster, who described the incident as “an unfortunate case of human error”.
The programme, part of a new ITV documentary strand, was investigating alleged links between former Libyan leader Colonel Gaddafi and the IRA. During the show, a sequence labelled “IRA film 1988” was shown to illustrate IRA members attempting to shoot down a helicopter in June 1988. However, it later emerged that the footage in question was actually taken from a video game entitled ArmA 2.
ITV defended the error, saying that the programme makers had intended to use genuine footage from an episode of The Cook Report. However, while attempting to source “a better version of the footage” the programme’s director had used the ArmA 2 clip, which he “mistakenly believed… to be a fuller version”. The broadcaster labelled the mix-up “regrettable”.
Ofcom also received complaints about riot footage used in the programme, described as taking place in July 2011. However, viewers complained that the footage was obviously from an earlier time because the riot vehicles in it were not contemporary.
ITV said the programme’s director sourced the material from a trusted local historian who had supplied footage in the past. The broadcaster said that “the discrepancy… was not discovered” because of “miscommunication” between the two parties.
Ofcom ruled that ITV had been in breach of the broadcasting code and said they were “greatly concerned” that the broadcaster had failed to authenticate the pieces of footage in question. They said they were “very surprised that the programme makers believed the footage of the helicopter attack was authentic” as there were “significant and easily identifiable differences” between The Cook Report and the ArmA 2 footage.
Referring to the riot footage, the media regulator said that it is “not sufficient for a broadcaster or programme maker to rely on footage provided by a third party source, on the basis that that source had previously supplied other broadcasters with archive footage”.
Ofcom added: “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.”
ITV said they have implemented improved compliance procedures to ensure “similar errors do not occur in future”.