The Alex Salmond Show – a political and current affairs series on the RT channel, hosted by the former First Minister of Scotland, Alex Salmond and produced by his own production company, Slàinte Media – has been found guilty of breaching a Broadcast Code provision that says factual programmes or items or portrayals of factual matters must not materially mislead the audience.
Broadcast regulator Ofcom received a complaint about the first episode of the new series alleging that the programme “invented tweets presented as real from viewers of the show to direct the debate on his views and terms”.
Ofcom asked for background information from the Licensee [TV Novosti] on how the tweets and emails had been obtained and chosen. In its background information, TV Novosti confirmed that four of the six tweets and emails referred to during this broadcast were sent by people connected either directly or indirectly to the production of the programme or to the presenter in some way.
Ofcom therefore considered this material raised potential issues under the relevant Rule of the Code [2.2] and asked the Licensee how the content complied with these rules.
In summary, following consideration of TV Novostni’s representations, Ofcom considered that viewers would have been under the impression that four questions quoted by Salmond had originated from members of the public wholly unconnected with the programme or with him, when this was not, in fact, the case. The failure to disclose this information meant that viewers were misled. Because viewer trust in this current affairs programme would have been undermined, Ofcom considered that this was materially misleading.
Ofcom acknowledged that the inclusion of the tweet from the Series Editor (Question 5) was an error and the Licensee referred to there being “some minor and inadvertent mishaps in the selection and presentation of the questions and comments”. It also took into account TV Novosti’s regret about the “minor teething problems” in this first programme in the series and its confirmation that an internal review had been carried out which included a meeting with the production team and these issues will not be repeated.
“However, for the reasons given above, our Decision is that the programme was in breach of Rule 2.2 of the Code,” concluded Ofcom.
In response, RT described the Decision as “a notable and worrying example of Ofcom’s orchestration of the media in this matter by publicising without notice to RT the provisional findings for its decision in this case, in a statement made on April 18”.
According to RT, this was before it had heard, let alone had time to consider, RT’s representations on its preliminary view. “This gives rise to grave concern over the fairness of Ofcom’s process and agenda. The concern is heightened as Ofcom is using powers that exist for protection against serious matters to find a breach in relation to this trivial teething problem – a veritable sledgehammer to crack a nut,” claims the broadcaster.
A spokesperson for Slainte Media commented:
“We are pleased that Ofcom in its ruling has rejected the basis of the sole complaint made against the programme and the inaccurate press coverage which provoked it. We also acknowledged that the questions read out by Mr Salmond were not ‘invented’ as alleged by the complainant and that only one of the six tweets and emails referred to Brexit, the matter raised by the complainant in this case.”
Ofcom Decision paragraph 5
“Thus it seems extraordinary that, having dismissed the basis of the only complaint which they actually received Ofcom then finds a different reason for an ‘in breach’ finding, even if it is one which carries no sanction. For the very first programme of a recorded series there were obviously no existing viewers or live tweets to draw on in order to illustrate the audience participation section. Thus we used comment from a variety of sources for the six questions.”
“Ofcom suggests that in these circumstances the inclusion of three questions from people with even remote connections to the Show is enough for an ‘in breach’ finding; not because their questions were included but because it was not specifically mentioned that they were from a freelance hairdresser, a friend of a camera man and someone who knew Mr Salmond!”
“This ruling is despite the fact that the content of the questions were basically light hearted (eg the English meaning of the Scots Gaelic word Slainte) and clearly pursued no particular agenda nor could possibly have caused any offence. In other words this ruling, even one with no proposed sanction, is out of all proportion to this very minor matter.”
“It is worth noting that since this very first Alex Salmond Show was broadcast, last November, and the audience established, we have produced no less than 34 shows featuring this particular section on viewers’ questions with no difficulty or complaint whatsoever.”