C4 documentary cleared by UK regulator

The UK media regulator has found that the Channel 4 (C4) documentary on alleged war crimes committed in Sri Lanka is not in breach of its rules on fairness and impartiality.

C4 aired Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields, from ITN Productions, in June highlighting evidence of alleged war crimes being committed at the end of the Sri Lankan civil war in 2009.

Media regulator Ofcom received 118 complaints about the broadcast and the Sri Lankan government has repeatedly questioned the film’s integrity.

The regulator investigated whether the film was impartial, whether the material broadcast was offensive and if the eyewitness accounts had been faked or misrepresented.

Ofcom found in favour of C4 on all three counts. It ruled that the footage was "brutal and shocking" but would not have exceeded the expectations of the audience given the time-slot and pre-show warnings about its content.

It found that C4 had "taken all reasonable steps to ensure the eyewitness accounts were genuine and that it remained impartial in presenting its evidence."

The Ofcom report concluded: "Channel 4 has a unique public service remit to provide programming that is challenging, diverse and likely to provoke debate."

C4 has shown the film at the UN but the Sri Lankan government has repeatedly expressed outrage at the programme saying it is inaccurate and biased.

Last week C4 head of news and current affairs Dorothy Byrne, who commissioned the programme, told a House of Lords select committee hearing on investigative journalism that makers of such films are coming under increasing pressure from public relations campaigns.

She said: "When we set out in something that we would define to ourselves as investigative journalism we are ready for people to oppose us.

"They will not just try to threaten us with libel actions; they will launch worldwide PR exercises against us. There is one going on now against our investigations into Sri Lanka’s war crimes.

"They will try and make complaints to our bosses, they will leak stories against us to newspaper diaries and they will go to our regulator and make potentially scores of complaints against us." (C21 Media)

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