A BBC documentary producer has blamed the Ministry of Defence and embedded reporting for allowing the broadcast of the faked Sky News report during the Iraqi war.
Simon Ford, executive producer of the BBC Two series Fighting the War, told Press Gazette that embedded reports meant there was “no editorial control” because the structure of editors overseeing a report was lost.
The MoD admitted to clearing for broadcast the fake news story, which portrayed the submarine HMS Splendid firing a cruise missile in the Persian Gulf, while in fact it was in the dock. The report was pooled to ITN.
Following 10 days of filming aboard Splendid, the BBC crew saw a report on ITN’s website proclaiming “exclusive” coverage of a submarine firing a cruise missile. “So we went back to the MoD to ask what the hell was going on after we’d spent all that money and done all that work, and they said: ‘Oh, the thing’s fake’,” Ford said.
“And so that’s why we decided it was absolutely vital we then showed the public that this report was completely inaccurate. It was part of a long process of us trying to show why it is that war reporting is distorted by the need to get exclusives and to make exclusive claims.”
An MoD spokesman said the Ministry did not have full control of the faked report, insisting that the “Green Book” guidelines to which editors subscribe before their journalists go into pooled military facilities “only allows us to take out matters [from reports] that directly affect national security only. We have no right of veto or challenge over opinion or anything else that’s reported.”
But Ford, who has produced some of the BBC’s highest profile documentaries, including The Hunt for Britain’s Paedophiles, Rough Justice and MacIntyre Undercover, said that to suggest the MoD is simply there to provide facilities was “rather tenuous”.
“I think it actually went to the heart of whether you can believe what you see being reported in wars.
“What we all have to remember is that this is something the MoD wanted reported – they wanted to boast about this and so they gave the facility. They didn’t stop James Forlong falsely reporting it.”
Meanwhile, the ITC has written to Sky head of news Nick Pollard demanding an explanation for the report and to identify any guidelines in place before it aired.
By Wale Azeez