Ofcom clears Channel 4 Sri Lanka documentary

Rebecca Hawkes ©RapidTVNews | 25-10-2011

UK regulator Ofcom has ruled that a Channel 4 documentary about the 2009 military campaign in Sri Lanka did not breach its rules on broadcasting impartial, offensive or misleading material.

'Sri Lanka's Killing Fields', which generated 118 complaints, showed "executions, atrocities and the shelling of civilians". It prompted the UK Foreign Office to repeat calls for an independent investigation of alleged war crimes during the Sri Lankan Government-led operation.
When broadcast in June 2011, the presenter Jon Snow described it as "one of the most important" and shocking stories he had reported during his journalistic career.
Ofcom ruled it did not breach its rule on impartiality, noting Channel 4 did offer the Sri Lankan government a right to reply, and included its response within the documentary. It also covered the actions of opposition fighters, said the regulator.
"While the subject matter did present evidence which predominantly covered the actions of the Sri Lankan government offensive, the documentary included explicit references to the LTTE [Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam] activities at this time where this was relevant.
"Ofcom therefore concluded that overall Channel 4 preserved due impartiality in its examination of the Sri Lankan government's actions and policies during its offensive".
Ofcom also rejected any suggestion that the material was faked or manipulated. "Channel 4 explained that great care was taken to verify all of the material received before it was broadcast in order not to mislead the audience, and the audience were advised of the expert assistance obtained to ensure the material had not been manipulated," said Ofcom.
Responding to criticisms that the programme contained offensive material, Ofcom said as part of its remit as a public broadcaster Channel 4 should provide "programming that is challenging, diverse and likely to provoke debate."
Ofcom concluded: "The images included in this programme, whilst brutal and shocking, would not have exceeded the expectations of the audience for this Channel 4 documentary scheduled well after the watershed with very clear warnings about the nature of the content."
Following the ruling, Dorothy Byrne, head of news and current affairs at Channel 4, said the broadcaster is "delighted with this unqualified vindication on all counts".
"The finding is testament to the rigorous journalistic methods employed by ITN Productions and the meticulous legal and compliance scrutiny involved to ensure this vital film – which presented devastating prima facie evidence of war crimes and crimes against humanity – could be broadcast."
The film has been watched by over a million viewers in the UK, according to Channel 4.