Ofcom clears C4 over Sri Lanka war crimes footage

Channel 4 documentary Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields has been cleared by Ofcom of misleading viewers.

The programme, which presented evidence of alleged war crimes during the Sri Lankan civil war, sparked 118 complaints.

Watchdog Ofcom examined whether the documentary, presented by Jon Snow in June was impartial, offensive and whether it contained misleading material.

By its own admission, Channel 4 said the programme contained ‘some of the most horrific footage …(it) has ever broadcast”.

The documentary included footage taken on mobile phones apparently showing: the extra-judicial executions of prisoners; the aftermath of the shelling of civilian camps and dead female Tamil fighters who C4 said may have been sexually assaulted before being killed.

Ofcom said the broadcaster took steps to ensure the view of the Sri Lankan government – that the footage was faked – was made clear to viewers, and that it had also taken “reasonable steps to establish that the material was not faked or manipulated”.

Ofcom concluded that Channel 4 “preserved due impartiality in its examination of the Sri Lankan government’s actions and policies during its offensive”.

Channel 4 sought the viewpoints of the Sri Lankan government, but could only broadcast a limited statement as the government had not responded in full.

The watchdog said that although some viewers might have been “very offended by the graphic images depicting executions of bound prisoners, mutilated corpses, the maltreatment of women and the victims of bombings”, there were warnings about the nature of the footage and it was screened well after the watershed.

Channel 4 head of news and current affairs Dorothy Byrne said: ‘We are delighted with this unqualified vindication on all counts. The finding is testament to the rigorous journalistic methods employed by ITN Productions and the meticulous legal and compliance scrutiny involved to ensure this vital film – which presented devastating.”

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