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Channel 4′s Sri Lanka documentary cleared by Ofcom

[guardian.co.uk, Monday, 24 October 2011 11:17 One Comment]

Controversial film that featured graphic footage of alleged war crimes did not breach broadcasting code, rules regulator

Sri Lanka's Killing Fields: Ofcom received 118 complaints. Photograph: Channel 4

Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields: Ofcom received 118 complaints. Photograph: Channel 4

Channel 4‘s controversial documentary Sri Lanka‘s Killing Fields, which featured graphic footage of alleged war crimes, has been cleared of breaching the broadcasting code.

Ofcom said images featured in the documentary, broadcast in June, "whilst brutal and shocking", did not exceed what the Channel 4 audience would have expected, given the pre-transmission warning about the nature of the content and the programme’s scheduling at 11.05pm, well after the 9pm watershed.

The media regulator received 118 complaints about the documentary, about issues including impartiality, offensiveness and the broadcast of misleading material, but concluded it had not breached the broadcasting code on any of these counts.

Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields, which focused on a UN investigation into alleged war crimes during the final weeks of the country’s civil war, included a number of images of murdered and tortured bodies, and also of partially clothed women who, it was suggested in the documentary, had been sexually abused prior to their death.

The documentary featured mobile phone footage, photographs and eyewitness accounts gathered by programme-maker ITN Productions.

The regulator said: "Channel 4 has a unique public service remit to provide programming that is challenging, diverse and likely to provoke debate. Consequently, the broadcaster has a history of broadcasting very challenging material from war zones (including graphic footage) and seeking out the voices and views of those who may not be represented.

"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."

On the question of impartiality, Ofcom noted that Channel 4 had put all the significant allegations included in the documentary to the Sri Lankan government and broadcast the limited statement that was provided.

The documentary also included previous Sri Lankan government statements relating to the final stages of the civil war against the Tamil Tigers, including a clip of an official claiming that the first video of an alleged execution shown in the programme was a fake.

Ofcom also said that the documentary was only required to maintain due impartiality on its specific subject — the government offensive against the Tamil Tigers in the final stages of the war — and not the conflict as a whole.

"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 and there was no breach of [the broadcasting code]," Ofcom concluded.

In response to complaints that the programme was misleading, Ofcom concluded that Channel 4 had taken reasonable steps to establish that the material included in Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields was not faked or manipulated, and had not materially misled viewers in the way it was presented on air.

Earlier in October Dorothy Byrne, the Channel 4 had of news of current affairs, told the Lords communications committee that programmes such as Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields faced "worldwide PR exercises".

Byrne said stories appeared about the Sri Lanka investigation "all over the world in a highly organised way".

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One Comment »

  • Dougie said:

    If you have not seen this documentary you must do so. It is horrifying to watch but this is what really happened to innocent, unarmed civilians offering no threat. Murder-Rape-Torture. The shocking treatment of Tamil people by Sri Lanka forces evidenced in the documentary has gone relatively unnoticed by the World. If we do not speak out against crimes against humanity around the World we have no right to appeal for help if we become the subject of such atrocities.