BBC Look North misled viewers and breached editorial rules on accuracy with a report on sex trafficking in the North East, the BBC Trust has ruled.
A viewer wrote to the BBC’s editorial complaints unit protesting about the use of library footage in the report broadcast on BBC1 during an episode of the regional news programme on 8 September.
The complainant said the footage wrongly gave the impression that it was directly related to the trafficking of women into the North East.
BBC Information told the complaints unit that library footage was a standard journalistic tool, it was neither claimed nor implied in the footage that the material was specific to the North East region.
However. the trust ruled yesterday that the absence of any labelling or attribution on library footage, which was shot outside the North East, breached guidelines as it gave the misleading impression that the raids featured had been carried out in the region.
“Members of the committee saw that library material was used extensively in this short piece and that none of it was labelled or attributed,” the trust said.
“They understood that when Newsnight used the ‘raid’ footage a few weeks later – in a piece on the same subject – the script said ‘Police raids on brothels and massage parlours like this one in Birmingham were rolled outâ€¦'”
The trust’s complaints units also upheld part of the viewer’s complaint that related to figures used as part of the sex trafficking report.
Describing the nature and scale of the problem, the studio introduction to the report said that “more than a hundred women had been smuggled into the North East and forced to work in the sex trade”.
The producer of the programme told the editorial complaints unit the figure, which was supplied by the police, came from two charities and the head of the UK Trafficking Agency.
“The committee concluded that Look North was perfectly entitled to quote the figure that was given to them but they should have stated the source of the information,” the trust ruled.
“At the time, the police and charities thought the figure was right and it was reasonable for the programme team to rely on that. But the accuracy guideline was breached because the information was not attributed.”
The trust rejected part of the complaint about the impartiality of the report.
“The committee concluded that while there had been flaws with the report, i.e. that the use of the library material and the unattributed information had been in breach of the accuracy guidelines, the report had not been biased,” the trust added.
A spokesman for BBC in the North East said: “We note and acknowledge the findings of the BBC Trust’s report and the full details can be read on the BBC Trust website.”