Ofcom: BBC was unfair to couple in 'Nazi' documentary

Ofcom has upheld in part a fairness and privacy complaint against a BBC documentary called Weekend Nazis, presented by John Sweeney, by a couple whose wedding at a military re-enactment show was aired.

The documentary, broadcast on 27 August 2007, visited the annual ‘War and Peace Show’in Kent, where re-enactment groups put on displays and engaged in mock battles.

The two complainants, Nicholas Beardshaw and his wife Michaela, got married at the show with footage of their wedding shown in the programme.

The programme questioned why the majority of the re-enactors chose to depict German soldiers, in particular the Waffen-SS.

Beardshaw told Press Gazette shortly after the documentary was aired that he believed the investigation into whether Second World War German army re-enactment groups are a ‘magnet for extremists’was misleadingly edited.

He said American music was played during the wedding, but the programme dubbed over the German national anthem, and although there were around 60 guests at the wedding only the 20 wearing German uniform were shown on the documentary.

Presenter John Sweeney can be heard saying: ‘My first impression is of a big fat Nazi wedding – later I was told I was wrong about that, apparently to the trained eye many of these uniforms are not Nazi.”

Ofcom upheld the complaint by the couple that they were not told the true nature of the programme when they agreed that their wedding could be filmed.

The media watchdog also agreed that the use of the German national anthem over shots of their wedding invitation and their arrival at the wedding resulted in unfairness – as in combination with the style of the programme it ‘served to make a likely connection in the minds of the viewers betweek the Beardhsaws’ wedding and Nazi era Germany”.

The complaint by the Beardshaws that they were not being given an opportunity to respond to an allegation made in the programme that they wore SS symbols in civilian life was also upheld.

Ofcom rejected claims of unfairness from the film-makers not broadcasting footage of what Beardshaw claimed was his German wife’s distress at an interview conducted with them after the interview, and also rejected claims of unfairness at only guests in German uniform being shown, and said that after looking at evidence it concluded that ‘the overall impression was of a WWII German military style wedding”.

The couple also claimed their privacy was breached when their wedding invitation was shown on TV, and when the programme makers did not stick to the permission given by the Bearshaws to film their wedding from a distance. Neither of these complaints were upheld.

Ofcom has rejected a unfair treatment and unwarranted infringement of privacy complaint of another war re-enactor featured in the documentary, but has upheld one part of a complaint over privacy.

Glen Swallow, a leader of a large re-enactment group known as the Second Battle Group who portray the 1st SS Panzer Division Leistandarte Adolf Hitler, was secretly filmed making racist comments.

Ofcom rejected his complaint that he was treated unfairly, but upheld the complaint that his privacy was infringed in broadcasting his comments because the material did not outweight his right to privacy as he holds no publicly accountable position and nor does SBG re-enactment group, and that because the filming was at a private, social occasion where alcohol was served.

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