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Dispatches: Politicians for Hire cleared by Ofcom

Following Channel 4’s unprecedented step of inviting Ofcom to scrutinise a Dispatches report into senior politicians using their public office for personal financial gain, the communications regulator has today announced the programme has been cleared on all counts of fairness and privacy.

The regulator described the programme as, “a serious piece of broadcast journalism,” and said that, “there was a significant public interest in the programme makers exploring the conduct of both Sir Malcolm Rifkind and Mr Straw.”

The report was a joint-investigation with The Telegraph newspaper and Channel 4’s flagship current affairs strand, Dispatches. It involved the use of undercover filming techniques which revealed two senior politicians, former Foreign Secretaries Sir Malcolm Rifkind and Jack Straw, trading on their Westminster connections to earn money from lucrative positions in the private sector.

The programme included secretly recorded footage of both men meeting with the representatives of a Chinese communications company (“PMR Communications”) to discuss their interest in joining the company’s advisory board and to consult on planned investments in the UK and Europe. However, the company was fictitious and its representatives were undercover reporters who recorded the meetings with both men.

Ofcom found that:

  • Channel 4 had taken reasonable care to satisfy itself that the facts were not presented, disregarded or omitted in a way that portrayed Sir Malcom Rifkind or Mr Straw unfairly in the programme as broadcast
  • Channel 4 had given both individuals an appropriate and timely opportunity to respond to the allegations raised in the programme in relation to their conduct;
  • Channel 4 had represented the views of Sir Malcolm Rifkind and Mr Straw in a fair manner
  • The use of secret filming to obtain footage for the programme, and its subsequent inclusion in the programme as broadcast, was warranted in the circumstances

In concluding, Ofcom considered that, “there was a genuine public interest justification for Channel 4 using some of the secretly filmed footage in the programme as broadcast in order to bring to the attention of the wider public the conduct of the two prominent parliamentarians who had held a number of senior ministerial positions, in relation to their commercial interests and their attitude to the potential conflict these interests might have with their political commitments.”

Channel 4’s Deputy Head of News & Current Affairs and Dispatches Editor, Daniel Pearl, said: “We are delighted this important piece of public service journalism has been thoroughly vindicated by the independent regulator. This was a rigorously detailed investigation which paid scrupulous attention to fairness and accuracy at all times. We are pleased that Ofcom has recognised that the secretly-filmed comments, ‘accurately represented the discussions that took place between the MPs and the undercover reporters.’”

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