Ofcom censures BBC for unfairness to Saudi regime

Today: did not air any of the statement provided by Saudi Government

The BBC has had its wrists slapped by Ofcom for unfairness after failing to uphold the Saudi Government’s right to reply to an item on Radio 4’s Today accusing the regime of accepting “sweeteners” before awarding defence contracts.

Following the broadcast on November 12 last year, Saudi Ambassador Prince Turki Al Faisal complained to the regulator that the item had been unfair to the Saudi Arabian Government and embassy because the allegation was not true and Today did not air any of the statement he issued.

In the programme, reporter Nicola Stanbridge quoted Edward Cunningham, a former employee of Robert Lee International – a company that arranged visas for Saudis in connection with a 1985 defence contract with British arms manufacturer BAE – as having made allegations about having to provide “cars, yachts and trips” for Saudi officials.

He was also quoted as saying that doing business with the Saudi Arabian Government required sweeteners for diplomats and staff.

Upholding the unfairness complaint, Ofcom said it was “not in a position to say whether the allegations were correct or not. However, they were serious and it was unfair not to have included any of the statement supplied in the programme.”

The BBC accepted Today should have aired the Saudi denial. In its defence, it said presenter John Humphrys’ introduction to the item “made clear twice in successive sentences that what the programme was reporting was allegation, not established fact”.

Ofcom also upheld a complaint of unwarranted infringement of privacy during a broadcast, after a BBC One programme on the ambulance service in Northern Ireland showed a woman in the aftermath of a road traffic accident in which she was seriously injured and her sister had died.

The woman, Claire Halliday, was identifiable during the broadcast of current affairs programme Front Line on May 5 last year.

Her face was shown, at close range, as she was being lifted on to a stretcher “seriously injured and in a state of pain and distress”.

Ofcom said: “She could reasonably have expected privacy in these circumstances and it was not necessary to include these shots to highlight the work of the ambulance service.”

By Wale Azeez

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