Panorama Primark doc 'inaccurate' - reporter hits back

The journalist behind a Panorama programme censured for breaching accuracy and fairness guidelines has claimed the BBC Trust‘s decision is “deeply damaging to independent investigative journalism”.

It emerged today that the BBC will be forced to make an on-air apology for a Panorama programme investigating retailer Primark’s alleged use of child labour called Primark on the Rack, which was aired on 23 June, 2008.

The programme looked into the retailer’s claims that it can deliver ‘cheap, fast fashion’without breaking ethical guidelines – and included footage obtained in a Bangalore workshop of three boys working on Primark garments.

After an appeal by Primark, the BBC Trust’s Editorial Standards Committee (ESC) today said it had examined a “substantial body” of evidence from the programme, which was broadcast in June 2008, and found it was “more likely than not” that the Bangalore footage was not genuine – though it was not able to say ‘beyond reasonable doubt”.

The ESC highlighted several points that influenced its decision:

  • The ESC felt that the activity being carried out in the Bangalore workshop using large needles, on the delicate and intricate stitching of the Primark sequinned tops, would have been inappropriate for the activity described by the programme
  • The distance between one location where the journalist had already filmed women working on the same Primark sequinned tops, and Bangalore, made it improbable that he had found the same tops in these two locations on successive days
  • The fact that no other Primark tops other than the three being worked on by the boys can be seen in the Bangalore footage

The journalist who presented the programme, Dan McDougall (Africa correspondent for The Sunday Times and a three-time winner of of the Amnesty International award for outstanding Human Rights Journalism), has hit back at the claims.

‘I have rarely seen a finding so unjust in outcome, flawed in process, and deepy damaging to independent investigative journalism,” he said.

‘In the BBC Trust’s own words, there is no ‘one piece of irrefutable and conclusive evidence’ to support the allegation that the sequence in the prograamme had been staged.

‘The BBC claims that investigative journalism should remain at the heart of the BBC news but what this verdict demonstrates is that it judges journalists on the balance of probability rather than fact.”

The BBC has now been forced to apologise to Primark and agreed to never sell or air the programme again. The ESC also said it had requested an executive to consider the corporations’ position in connection with the Royal Television Society Award it won for it in 2009.

BBC Trustee and chair of the ESC Alison Hastings said: “The BBC’s investigative journalism is rightly held in very high regard, and for more than fifty years Panorama has made a very significant contribution to that.

‘But great investigative journalism must be based on the highest standards of accuracy, and this programme on Primark failed to meet those standards.

‘While it’s important to recognise that the programme did find evidence elsewhere that Primark was contravening its own ethical guidelines, there were still serious failings in the making of the programme.

‘The Trust would like to apologise on behalf of the BBC to Primark and to the audience at home for this rare lapse in quality.”

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