ITV documentary video game

Footage which appeared in the first episode of ITV's Exposure was actually taken from a computer game called Arma 2

Ofcom has today said that ITV was in breach of its rules after broadcasting two pieces of footage in a documentary which viewers complained were misleading, including the video game footage labelled as IRA video.

The broadcast regulator launched an investigation into the matter in October last year, a month after ITV issued an apology for the inclusion of the video game footage in its documentary titled "Exposure: Gaddafi and the IRA", which it described as "an unfortunate case of human error", adding that the footage was "mistakenly included in the film by producers".

Ofcom's Broadcast Bulletin, published today, outlines in more detail the process which led to the inclusion of the video game footage.

ITV told the regulator its intention was to use video from "a genuine incident" already featured in the Cook Report in 1989.

But, the broadcaster said, in pursuit of "a fuller and better version" of the footage, online video was viewed by the programme director and "mistakenly believed ... to be a fuller version of the footage".

"Although there were clear differences between the two pieces of footage, his memory over the ensuing period of time let him down and led him to believe it was the same footage," ITV was said to have added in its response to Ofcom.

The broadcaster was also said to have stated that the footage was questioned by "an ITV compliance team member" but that they were assured it showed the correct event.

But the footage was not "cross-checked" against the Cook Report video, Ofcom says, which the broadcaster put down to "the pressure they were under in meeting the deadline for the programme's completion, delivery and broadcast".

According to Ofcom a second case of "wrong footage" in the documentary was also complained of, relating to video of a riot in Northern Ireland from July 2011, which viewers claimed actually depicted a different riot.

The riot footage was provided by "a local historian", Ofcom's report says, who "provided footage of an 'earlier riot'" which had taken place in the same area "years before".

In both cases ITV said it was a case of "human error" and that once it knew of the mistakes it "apologised to viewers who contacted ITV directly about these matters; and removed the programme from the ITV Player service".

Measures are also said to have been taken to prevent any problems in the future, including the need for current affairs programming producers "to complete an 'archive source list form" and the "issuing of guidance".

But in its findings Ofcom found that "viewers were misled" and that while "the potential harm caused in this particular case was limited", this was not considered "sufficient mitigation".

"There is a fundamental requirement that broadcasters must not materially mislead the audience over the content of serious factual programming such as Exposure: Gaddafi and the IRA," the regulator added.

"In previous cases, breaches of the [Ofcom] code that resulted in the audience being misled have always been considered by Ofcom to be amongst the most serious that can be committed by a broadcaster, because they go to the heart of the relationship of trust between a broadcaster and its audience. This is particularly pertinent when it involves a public service broadcaster, as in the case here.

"We noted that according to ITV both mistakes in this case were the result of human error, and that some steps were taken to verify the content of the footage used.

"However, apart from the way ITV says the internet footage was labelled, the specific steps taken by the programme makers were unclear, and we were greatly concerned that ITV and the programme makers failed to take sufficient measures to authenticate the two separate pieces of archive film footage.

"... Further, we are concerned that ITV did not make adequate checks on the provenance of the riot footage. 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, and fail to confirm the details of archive film provided."

Ofcom added that while changes have been made "to ensure such incidents do not happen in future", the case "represented a significant breach of audience trust, particularly in the context of a public service broadcaster".

"As such, Ofcom considered the programme to be materially misleading, in breach of rule 2.2 ... We do not expect any issues of a similar nature to arise in future."

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