U.K. broadcasting regulator Ofcom says television station ITV committed a “significant breach of audience trust” by presenting an Arma 2 fan video as real-life footage of a helicopter shootdown.
In September 2011, U.K. television station ITV aired a documentary entitled Gaddafi and the IRA, which purported to offer an in-depth look at the historical connections between former Libyan dictator Moammar Gaddafi and the Irish Republican Army. To demonstrate the impact of Gaddafi’s support, the program included a video clip showing IRA fighters shooting down a British helicopter with a Libyan-supplied anti-aircraft gun. Compelling stuff – and also completely fictional. The clip, labeled “IRA film 1988,” was in fact an edit of a fan-made Arma 2 video.
It was funny stuff but no laughing matter in the eyes of Ofcom, which declared that the show violated rule 2.2 of the Broadcasting Code, stating that “factual programs or items or portrayals of factual matters must not materially mislead the audience.”
ITV claimed that the program director saw the video clip online and “mistakenly believed [it] to be a fuller version” of video he’d seen in another program that had aired in 1989. He thus included it in the ITV documentary and although he intended to “source the original tape at some point,” he never actually did, nor did he bother to verify that the footage he saw online was actually what he saw in the other program. Worse, when a member of ITV’s “compliance team” questioned whether the video was legit, the director assured him that it was and that was apparently good enough for all involved.
The incident “was purely a case of human error,” ITV said. “It was not ITV’s intention to mislead viewers and the use of the wrong footage was in no way deliberate.”
That’s probably true, but it’s still incredibly sloppy and irresponsible. Ofcom acknowledged that ITV apologized for the mistake, removed the program from its on-demand video service and put new policies into place to help ensure that it doesn’t happen again, but added that it was still a gross violation of the rules.
“The viewers of this serious current affairs program were misled as to the nature of the material they were watching,” it wrote. “In the circumstances, this represented a significant breach of audience trust, particular in the context of a public service broadcaster. As such, Ofcom considered the program to be materially misleading, in breach of Rule 2.2.”
The report doesn’t state what penalties, if any, ITV could face for the breach.