Good Morning Britain in breach over homeless SAS veteran story

Ofcom has upheld in part a complaint of unjust or unfair treatment by Herefordshire County Council (“the Council”) over a story on Good Morning Britain about a homeless man called Bob Curry.

The Council’s complaint related to two episodes of Good Morning Britain, broadcast on 22 and 23 January 2018, which featured Mr Curry, an SAS veteran who had been involved in the storming of the Iranian Embassy in 1980 and who had become homeless.

During the first broadcast, Mr Curry claimed he had been engaged in a “constant battle with the council” for housing and the presenter, Piers Morgan, claimed Mr Curry was homeless “because you [the Council] have not seen fit to take care of him”.

Mr Morgan referred to, but refused to read out, a response from the Council, saying: “There’s a statement from the council, I was going to read it, but you know what? I can’t be bothered”.

There was an update on Mr Curry’s situation the following day in which it was reported that Mr Curry had still not received a response from the Council and Mr Morgan said “they don’t want to know, they don’t want to help, they don’t want to do anything”.

The Council complained that in the programme broadcast on 22 January 2018, the presenter refused to read out its initial statement and the 23 January 2018 programme did not include further statements it had given the programme team.

The Council said that, as a result, the programmes misrepresented the facts of Mr Curry’s case, failed to make clear to viewers the “limits of the Council’s capability”, provided a negative view of the Council, and did “not allow for proper consideration of the facts”, resulting in the story being one-sided and a breach of Rule 7.1 of the Code.

In respect of the 22 January 2018 programme, Ofcom found that the Council’s view was not represented in the programme and the broadcaster could not rely on the broadcast of subsequent programmes to avoid unfairness to the Council.  There had been a breach of the Code because the broadcaster had not taken reasonable care to ensure that material facts had not been presented, disregarded or omitted in a way that was unfair to the Council and the programme failed to adequately and fairly reflect the Council’s position.

In respect of the 23 January 2018 programme, however, Ofcom noted that the programme had made further inquiries of the Council and had included an interview with a member of the Council’s communications team which fairly reflected the relevant aspects of the Council’s position. The broadcaster did not need to reflect the Council’s previous response in order to avoid unfairness to the Council and the Council was not treated unfairly in the second programme.

The decision illustrates the extent to which the question of fairness and the requirement to reflect the position of a person or organisation featured in a programme is fact-sensitive, and how that requirement can change for a developing story.

In other compliance news, Ofcom has found that an episode of Do The Right Thing with Eamonn and Ruth that was broadcast on Channel 5 on 29 March 2018 breached Ofcom’s due impartiality rules, in particular that programmes concerning matters of public policy must be duly impartial, and the rule that the personal interests of presenters must be made clear to the audience, where such interests might call into question the impartiality of the programme.

The breach related to a discussion about electronic training collars for dogs and cats which included various statements supporting a ban on the collars and a call to action to viewers to lobby for a ban, but no statements that were unsupportive of, or challenged, the proposed ban.

The programme also quoted the Dogs Trust, which supported the ban, but did not mention that the presenters, Eamonn and Ruth, were patrons of the Trust.

As a result, Ofcom found that the programme failed to preserve due impartiality on a matter of current public policy (rule 5.5) and failed to make clear to the audience the personal interests of the presenters which could have called into question the programme’s due impartiality (rule 5.8).