BBC Newsbeat broke Ofcom rules with Call of Duty terrorist interview

An ISIS member comparing fighting for the terrorist group with the video game broke Ofcom's broadcasting guidelines

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Media watchdog Ofcom has ruled that BBC Newsbeat breached broadcasting rules in featuring an ISIS fighter who compared terrorism to a video game.

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Broadcast in June of this year, the item on the youth-skewed radio programme interviewed a British man who had gone overseas to fight for ISIS. Describing life in the terrorist group responsible for a string of atrocities and beheadings, Abu Sumarrah said:

“It’s actually quite fun, better than, what’s that game called, ‘Call of Duty’? It’s like that, but really, you know, 3-D. You can see everything’s happening in front of you, you know, it’s real, you know what I mean?” 

Responding to a complaint, Ofcom found that the comments were given “insufficient context to justify the offence” possibly caused by such comments, and were broadcast at a time when young people might be listening. Both constituted breaches of broadcasting guidelines, with Ofcom stating the BBC took “insufficient steps…to mitigate the offence” and that “this news item was not in line with the likely audience expectations for this programme.” 

In their explanation to the broadcasting watchdog, the BBC argued that Newsbeat “has a long-established record for tackling difficult subjects in a responsible way and this particular issue is of considerable interest and concern to its listeners,” and that the interview with Abu Sumayyah had been broadcast as part of wider coverage of the topic.

However, while stating that the report “did not in any way endorse the remarks made by Abu Sumayyah,” the Corporation accepted that the interview and its claims should have been given more context, and admitted that “with hindsight, it should have been preceded by a warning about the potential for offence arising from the views he was about to express.”

Although acknowledging that ISIS fighters and their motives are a legitimate area of interest, Ofcom decided that nothing specifically challenged Abu Sumayyah’s “overall positive assessment” of fighting with ISIS. They also pointed out that the interview came immediately after a light-hearted report on the Brazilian World Cup, and that Sumayyah’s comparisons of life in ISIS with the video game Call of Duty came at a time when the terrorist group was putting out similar propaganda on social media. 

Ofcom also found that the BBC had failed to make clear the origins of the interview. Taken from a podcast titled The ISIS Show, the BBC insisted it was produced by two independent freelance journalists, but that this meant BBC journalists could not challenge Abu Sumayyah directly.

A BBC spokeswoman said: “Newsbeat accepts the findings of the OFCOM and BBC Trust reports – appropriate measures have already been introduced to prevent similar breaches in the future.”

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Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, the latest in the first person action video game series, was released last week.