Ofcom clears broadcasters over 'graphic' Lee Rigby murder coverage

Ofcom has released guidelines for broadcasters following the broadcast of news footage moments after the murder of fusilier Lee Rigby.

Almost 700 viewers complained about the footage broadcast across TV channels on 22 May 2013 as well as coverage on the Iain Dale show on radio station LBC.

Rigby was murdered moments after he left Woolwich baracks in London by Michael Adebowale and Michael Adebolajo. Footage of the killing was captured on smartphones by members of the public and was soon uploaded onto the internet. 

Much of this footage, including images of Adebolajo ranting on screen with bloodied hands and a hatchet, was broadcast on evening news bulletins. 

According to Ofcom, broadcasters including the BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Channel 5, Sky News and Al Jazeera did not breach guidelines when covering the story.

Viewers complained about images shown in the aftermath of the killing including footage of one of the attackers attempting to justify his actions.

According to Ofcom: “While the coverage was detailed and at times distressing, we did not consider that the images were too offensive for broadcast given they were appropriately scheduled and justified by the context.

“We have however set out some guidance to broadcasters about, for example, the need to give appropriate warnings to viewers before broadcasting material which might cause offence or distress to viewers.”

Ofcom said mobile phone footage of the incident had been “widely disseminated via social media”.

ITV advised Ofcom  that an individual arrived at the broadcaster’s offices with mobile phone footage of the incident at 17.45 on 22 May. The broadcaster told the regulator that they satisfied themselves that the member of the public was not involved with the incident and broadcast the footage at 18.20 during their London Tonight programme.

Ofcom ruled: “However we were concerned about a few aspects of some news coverage of this incident, and wish to give some general guidance to broadcasters as a result. Ofcom recognises that when covering a breaking and important news story, especially where the subject matter and associated audio visual material is potentially distressing and offensive, important and timely editorial judgement is required.

“Television journalists must balance the need to inform the public fully and in a timely way in a competitive news environment against the requirements of the Code.”

In future Ofcom said broadcasters must warn the public in advance of the publication of graphic footage or audio.

For a full copy of the ruling click on this link.

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