The Russian global news broadcaster RT has been found guilty by Ofcom of misleading its audience after it reported a “massive investigation” into claims that the BBC’s Panorama had faked pictures of a chemical attack in Syria.
Ofcom also found Fox News, part of Rupert Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox media empire, breached the code when one of its contributors claimed that Birmingham had become a city “where non-Muslims just simply don’t go”.
The media regulator instructed RT to broadcast two on-air statements after finding its reporting of the conflicts in Ukraine was not impartial and that its Syria coverage breached the broadcasting code on factual matters.
The BBC complained to Ofcom over RT’s show The Truthseeker, which alleged that Panorama had faked scenes of chemical attacks and used actors to pose as victims in a 2013 documentary called Saving Syria’s Children. RT broadcast in voiceover a claim by “media investigator” Robert Stuart that the documentary was a “total fabrication” of an atrocity with the BBC’s reporter Ian Pannell “standing amidst a tableau of very bad actors”.
RT reported that a complaint to the BBC by Mr Stuart was the subject of a “massive public investigation which made some extremely disturbing findings”. Ofcom found this was materially misleading. The BBC said it rejected Mr Stuart’s complaint “with detailed reasons”.
The Russian government-funded RT suggested the BBC had broadcast its report on the “game-changing atrocity” to persuade the public of the case for military action in Syria.
The BBC welcomed the finding. “This impartial, fearless and award-winning reporting in Syria from Ian Pannell, Darren Conway and their team demonstrated the journalistic values which make us one of the world’s most trusted news broadcasters,” said a spokesperson.
Ofcom also found RT in breach of the broadcasting code in its reporting of The upheaval in Ukraine. Another episode of The Truthseeker, titled Genocide of Eastern Ukraine, suggested that the Kiev regime was determined to “repeat Hitler’s genocidal oath”. It compared the situation to massacres in Congo and Rwanda. Ofcom found RT had failed to reflect the position of the Ukrainian government and that the programme was in breach of impartiality rules.
The regulator ruled that the programme Ukraine’s Refugees, broadcast in July 2014, was in breach of impartiality rules. The programme alleged that the Ukrainian government and military were committing atrocities – including rape and murder - against refugees heading to Russia.
RT’s editor-in-chief Margarita Simonyan said the broadcaster was “shocked and disappointed” by Ofcom’s findings and accused the regulator of having “a peculiar approach to journalism”. “The film about refugees was based entirely on first-hand accounts of the war victims,” she said.
Ofcom said the Fox News claim that Birmingham had become a Muslim “no-go” zone, made in a programme about Islamic extremism in the context of the Charlie Hebdo shootings, “could have caused harm and offence” to viewers and “was a serious breach for a current affairs programme”.
Nolan Peterson, a former US air force officer, described as an “expert” on Islamic radicalisation, told Fox News host Judge Jeanine Pirro that “in Britain there are not just ‘no-go zones’, there are actually cities like Birmingham that are totally Muslim, where non-Muslims just simply don’t go in”. He alleged that parts of London were patrolled by “Muslim religious police”. Fox News has already apologised for its description of Birmingham, saying it was a “serious factual error”.
RT: A history
Founded in 2005 as Russia Today, the broadcaster is Kremlin-owned and funded by the Federal Agency for Press and Mass Communications. It rebranded to RT in 2009 and has been successful in expanding its global audience, especially in America. Its best known figures include the US financial commentator Max Keiser. RT has grown to a global staff of around 2,000 and last year opened a UK channel to “dissect the implications of major international developments for UK audiences”. Ofcom put it on notice of possible statutory action last year following four breaches of impartiality rules.
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies