Ofcom clears Panorama in complaint over Thomas Cook report

Broadcasting regulator Ofcom has rejected a complaint by Thomas Cook over a Panorama report into the deaths of two children on a holiday booked through the travel company.

Thomas Cook had complained the investigation had unfairly misrepresented its conduct after the two children, Christanne and Robert Shepherd, died from carbon monoxide poisoning while on a holiday in Corfu booked through the travel company. Two Thomas Cook employees have since been charged by the Greek courts in relation to the deaths.

In its finding, Ofcom rejected Thomas Cook’s complaint that had offered genuine support to the family following the children’s deaths and that this was not adequately presented in the BBC report, called “Death on Corfu”, which was broadcast on 2 April 2007.

The BBC argued that the family had ‘an honestly held’belief that the travel company had not provided the level of support they expected and that it was accurate to say that Thomas Cook had failed to offer help in investigating the deaths or prevent the incident happening again, considering the correspondence between the two parties.

Ofcom also rejected Thomas Cook’s argument that the BBC had unfairly edited its statement in response to the investigation. The BBC said it gave no guarantee to broadcast the statement in full and the statement failed to address the questions raised by the report.

Ofcom said that the parts of the statement broadcast included expressions of sympathy for the family, which Thomas Cook alleged had not been properly presented by the programme.

Thomas Cook also complained that the BBC had mispresented the employee who carried out a safety audit at the hotel, after the deaths. The company argued that the BBC referred to the employee as ‘a travel rep’when he wasa “consumer affairs executive” with appropriate qualifications. The BBC said that regardless of title, factually he failed to carry out ‘a competent safety check”.

Ofcom also found that the company had been given adequate time to respond to the serious allegations included in the report. The BBC had first approached Thomas Cook in March, a month before transmission and the company only clarified the qualifications of its employee who carried out the audit on the day the programme was transmitted.

Ofcom also said that Thomas Cook had not directly addressed or refuted the allegations put to it by the BBC.

The case was considered by Ofcom’s Fairness Committee, its most senior decision-making body on fairness and privacy issues.

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