Sky News was struggling through its embarrassment to hold on to 14 years’ worth of credibility among industry peers this week after it emerged that one of its news reports on the war in Iraq was fabricated, writes Wale Azeez.
In an attempt at damage limitation, James Forlong, who filed the report, resigned following an internal investigation into allegations made in a BBC documentary. It said his story, filmed from submarine HMS Splendid, had been made to look as if the vessel was out at sea, while it was in fact docked.
The report also included images showing a cruise missile being fired after Forlong said HMS Splendid was “beneath the waters of the Persian Gulfâ€¦ moments before a cruise missile is launched”, when actually it was neither beneath the waters nor ready to fire. It later transpired those images were library footage.
The main source of embarrassment for Sky News stemmed from the fact that its report was pooled and shown by other broadcasters during the war. Revelations that the news report was faked came to light after an episode of the BBC Two documentary series Fighting the War featured the piece. The documentary makers spent 10 days on the same submarine. Simon Ford, executive producer of the programme, said:
“The MoD said the report was fake. That is why we decided it was absolutely vital to show the public that the report was inaccurate and why it was inaccurate.”
Forlong and his producer Lucy Chaytor were suspended during the two-day investigation into initial allegations of the report’s fabrication. Chaytor was cleared of any blame.
In a statement, Sky Networks deputy managing director Mark Sharman, who headed the inquiry, admitted: “The report gave the impression that HMS Splendid was engaged in action against Iraq, when in fact some of the scenes were reconstructions, or from library footage.” In the same statement,
Forlong put his action down to “a single lapse of judgement” after 10 years with the broadcaster. “There was never any conscious intent to deceive the viewers, though I accept that was the outcome,” he said.
Head of Sky News Nick Pollard said he believed Forlong had taken “the only possible course” in resigning.