UK media regulator Ofcom has fined Dubai-based Arabic news channel Al Arabiya with a significant fine.
Al Arabiya (translated as ‘The Arabic One’) is the main competitor to Al Jazeera and is owned by Saudi Arabia-backed Middle East Broadcasting (MBC).
Ofcom received a complaint concerning unfair treatment and “unwarranted infringement of privacy” over a transmission aired in February 2016 and concerning the 2011 imprisonment of the complainant by Bahrain and a confession alleged to have been made by the complainant and subsequently found to have been made under torture and mistreatment while in custody.
Al Arabiya argued in its submission to Ofcom that at the time of the transmission it was not an Ofcom-licensed channel. The channel said that even if the filming of the interview was undertaken in circumstances that amounted to a breach of the Code (which it denied), it said it could not be in breach of the Code in respect of events which took place when it was not subject to Ofcom’s jurisdiction or Code, and that any penalty would be inconsistent and unjust.
Ofcom had already ruled in April 2017 that the programme had made a “serious” breach of its broadcasting code. Ofcom has now determined the penalty, saying: “Ofcom’s Decision is that the appropriate sanction should be a financial penalty of £120,000 and that the Licensee should be directed to broadcast a statement of Ofcom’s findings, on a date to be determined by Ofcom, and that it should be directed to refrain from broadcasting the material found in breach again.”
In explaining the background to its decision, Ofcom added: “Given the high-profile and well publicised nature of the case, it was Ofcom’s view that the broadcaster was aware, or ought to have been aware (at least by the date of broadcast, in early 2016), that the statements being made by [the complainant] in the footage may not have accurately or fairly represented his views. Despite this, it did not appear that Al Arabiya News had taken steps to verify with [the complainant] (or his representatives) the veracity or accuracy of the footage which was subsequently broadcast.”