Channel 5 condemned for not checking facts in documentary

Channel 5 has been condemned by television regulators for a programme in which a motorbike crash victim discovered, wrongly, that he would never walk again.

Channel 5 has been condemned by television regulators for a programme in which a motorbike crash victim discovered, wrongly, that he would never walk again.

The injured man, who has not been named, was still in hospital recovering from a broken neck when he heard the damning prognosis in a commentary accompanying a documentary called Crash. He and his family had been told nothing by the doctors or physiotherapists and they were very distressed by the statement that he "would never walk or ride again".

The information had been checked with neither the hospital nor the victim, but came from an investigating police officer, the Independent Television Commission was told. Yet, while the motorcyclist needed more than six months in hospital before he was released, the prognosis was, in fact, wrong. He can now walk with the aid of sticks.

In an adjudication published today, the commission upholds a complaint from the victim that the programme was in breach of codes designed to respect privacy at times of distress and a general requirement of a "respect for truth".

It said: "The ITC found it unacceptable that such sensitive information about a hospitalised patient's prognosis should have been broadcast without it first being ascertained that the individual concerned was aware of it."

The programme makers should have checked with the hospital or the injured man and the information should not have been included if confirmation was not forthcoming. The fact that it was wrong did not make things better but was equally serious, the report concluded.

The man was not identified by name or in pictures in the programme, part of a series about the North Yorkshire Police serious accident team, but he was able to recognise his crash when it was broadcast in November last year.

Channel 5 argued that the man's privacy had not been infringed because he had not been identified. The commission also noted that the channel had tried to alert the man to the broadcast. But a letter to him did not arrive until two days after the broadcast because the police had provided a wrong address.

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