ITV 'talked up' Blair’s confession

Journalists at ITV News ‘talked up’ the influence of Tony Blair’s faith over the decision to invade Iraq when they broadcast to millions of viewers last year.

Issuing the verdict yesterday, regulator Ofcom said two news pieces broadcast by the channel in March “failed to show proper regard for due accuracy.”

Both the offending bulletins centred on Michael Parkinson’s interview with the Prime Minister, in which Mr Blair said invading Iraq was on his conscience, and would be judged by history.

ITV news ran the story with the strap-lines of “Holy War” and “Act of Faith,” and chose to include religious remarks made by George W Bush in its second bulletin.

This aspect was aimed at exploring parallels between the two men, after the President “was said to have claimed that he decided to invade Iraq because he was on a mission from God,” ITV News reported.

The channel’s second bulletin concluded with a link-up between the studio and ITV’s chief political correspondent, who said it was now “provocative” of Mr Blair “to imply God was on your side.”

Responding to Ofcom, which received 10 complaints that the broadcaster had distorted Mr Blair’s comments, ITV News was largely defiant.

When asked by Michael Parkinson whether Mr Blair prays to God when taking a big decision, ITV news said it was sufficiently clear to deduce he does by his answer:

“…but it’s…yeah, I… you, you, but you…. of course…. it’s … you, you struggle with your own conscience about it because people’s lives are affected,” the Prime Minister said.

ITV News also maintained that its own judgement on what Mr Blair had said was “within the range of reasonable meanings” that could be deduced.

Moreover, at no time was Mr Parkinson’s question about prayer answered with a resounding ‘no,’ and the subject of God was initiated not by him - but by the PM.

However Ofcom ruled that there can be no certainty that the words “yeah” and “of course” referred directly to the questions posed by Michael Parkinson.

Rather it is likely they were “merely punctuations in Mr Blair’s thought process, as he considered how to answer the question,” the regulator said.

As a result, ITV News, as one of the UK’s leading television news providers for a public service broadcaster, should have made clear that Mr Blair’s comments were open to different interpretations.

However, the ITV studio presenter and chief political correspondent made unequivocal statements in the early evening bulletin.

The news presenter opened: “Tony Blair says his belief in God played a part in deciding to go to war in Iraq. The Prime Minister tells ITV1 he prayed over the difficult decision. Tonight the startling insight into how Mr Blair’s faith influenced Britain’s part in ousting Saddam. So was it holy war?”

Since Ofcom’s investigation, ITV News has conceded some of the language used in it news story should have been less provocative, though it maintains the broad thrust of the piece was accurate.

In particular, the use of terms like “Holy War” and “Act of Faith” on strap-lines was “not wholly appropriate”, it said, and the political correspondent could have phrased her analysis “better”.

In a stronger condemnation, Ofcom said: “ITV News reported as fact its interpretation of the interview Tony Blair gave the Parkinson Show, when the interview was, at the very least ambiguous, and open to a number of differing interpretations, ITV was in breach of the requirement for reporting news with due accuracy, (Rule 5.1)”

For freelance journalists and broadcasters, 5.1 of the Broadcasting Code states: “News, in whatever form, must be reported with due accuracy and presented with due impartiality”.



 

28th February 2007

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