Ofcom finds UTV was unfair in dangerous dogs probe

Ofcom has censured Northern Irish broadcaster UTV for ‘unfair treatment’ of an expert on dangerous dogs in its flagship current affairs programme.

The media regulator upheld part of a complaint made by Dr Roger Mugford, an animal psychologist, after his appearance on an edition of Insight, broadcast on 19 November 2007.

The edition of the programme, entitled Bad Dog, examined the law in Northern Ireland regarding dangerous dogs.

It investigated allegations by the Ulster Society for the Protection of Animals (USPCA) and the police that some expert witnesses, including Mugford, were prepared to mislead courts over a dog’s breed to prevent it being destroyed.

Mugford was secretly filmed by a USPCA undercover agent examining a dog that the animal welfare charity believed to be a pedigree pitbull terrier bred specifically for fighting. Under Northern Irish law, a dog of this kind would be destroyed.

He was filmed saying that the dog was “not a pitbull”, despite having said to the undercover agent that “if it was England I would say he’s a pitbull”.

Mugford was later interviewed for the programme and was asked to respond to the comments he made. He was unaware of the undercover filming at this stage.

According to Ofcom, Mugford claimed that he was “portrayed unfairly in that the programme made allegations of either wrongdoing or incompetence”.

He also complained that he was not given a fair opportunity to respond to the allegations and further claimed that the secret footage broadcast had been “unfairly edited”.

UTV said the programme made no comment on Mugford’s competence and said the use of undercover footage was both necessary and in the public interest.

But the programme-makers said they had decided not to offer Mugford the normal “appropriate and timely” opportunity to respond to some of the claims because they feared that the investigation “would have been frustrated” if he had been alerted to the existence of undercover footage.

The Ofcom Fairness Committee accepted he was not given an “appropriate and timely” opportunity to respond to allegations and ruled that he was treated unfairly. The committee did not accept the other allegations.

The regulator ruled that UTV should broadcast a summary of the finding of unfair treatment.

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