ITV News rapped over Blair, war and God bulletins

Ofcom has rapped ITV News over two bulletins which claimed Tony Blair had based his decision to go to war on his faith and that he had prayed before embarking on military action in Iraq.

The Ofcom Content Board review followed an appeal by ITV against an earlier decision after complainants said Blair's comments had been wrongly interpreted in bulletins broadcast last March.

The key part of the interview were two questions put by Michael Parkinson to the Prime Minister — in which the two speak simultaneously over each other.

Parkinson said: "… so you would… pray… to God whenever you make a decision like that?"; and "…you said that… you'd… been informed".

ITV News contended that, although indistinct, Blair said "yeah" and "of course" in the flow of his answer to the question about praying to God before taking a decision such as going to war and to the point "you'd been informed".

The broadcaster contended that this was an affirmative response which linked God to the decision.

ITV maintained that Blair's answer ("… but it's… yeah, I… you, you, but you… of course, it's… you, you struggle with your own conscience about it because people's lives are affected") was sufficiently clear for them to conclude that faith in God had played a part in the decision to go to war.

While conceding that the coverage should have been "a little less strident" and "less provocative" in its use of language which included straplines of "Holy War" and "Act of Faith", ITV pointed out that Blair introduced God and faith to the interview.

When asked directly about the role of faith in his decision, Blair did not clearly say no.

ITV also argued that its own judgement was "within a range of reasonable meanings that could be derived".

Ofcom said it should have been made clear that Blair's comments were open to interpretation.

The Ofcom report added that the ITV studio presenter and chief political correspondent made unequivocal statements in the 18:30 bulletin.

These included "Tony Blair says his belief in God played a part in deciding to go to war in Iraq".

Ofcom, which received 10 complaints over the bulletins, concluded that the reports were not in breach of Rule 3.1 because they did not include any direct incitement to commit crime or disorder, but were in breach of Rule 5.1 — the requirement for due accuracy in news.

ITV voluntarily carried a summary of Ofcom's finding. Ofcom considered further formal regulatory intervention unnecessary.

ITV said in a statement: "Although ITV News defended the original broadcast and appealed against the Ofcom finding, we accept the Ofcom ruling and carried a summary of Ofcom's findings at the end of the ITV Evening News and the News at Ten Thirty on 26 February."

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