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Radio bulletin error in murder charge report happened while usual news team were away at event

Two Bauer Media-owned radio stations in Northern Ireland breached Ofcom’s Broadcasting Code when they stated as fact in a news bulletin that a man had killed another man before the case had reached trial.

A listener alerted Ofcom to a news bulletin which aired at 4pm on 18 June 2017 on Downtown Radio and Cool FM, raising concerns over its accuracy.

The man and three accomplices have since pleaded guilty to murder and were jailed in January this year.

The radio news bulletin that prompted the complaint stated: “Our top story this hour: The man who killed Colin Horner (pictured) in front of his three-year-old son has been charged with murder.

“The 29-year-old Newtownards man shot Mr Horner outside a supermarket in Bangor last month…”

Ofcom said the first part of the bulletin breached Rule 5.1 of the Broadcasting Code, which states that news must be reported “with due accuracy”.

The licencee for both stations, Downtown, told Ofcom that the unnamed news presenter had read “the correct copy” at 1pm before later editing the script.

The original copy said: “A 29-year-old man from Newtownards has been charged with the murder of Colin Horner. Mr Horner was shot in front of his three-year-old son…”

Downtown argued that “some mitigation of the error” could be found in the fact the presenter had decided not to name the man who had been charged.

But, it said it had since decided “not to avail of [the presenter’s] services” and that it was “concerned, surprised and disappointed that such an error could be made by a journalist with such a pedigree and legal knowledge”.

The presenter described themselves as a “novice journalist” and said they had been “delighted” to be offered cover work at the radio stations from 16 to 18 June “while the news team attended [an external event]”.

The error took place the same weekend that the Bauer Media Awards were held in London.

Ofcom disagreed with Downtown’s argument that “if it subsequently transpires that [a suspect] pleads or was found guilty it will be the case that there was no breach of Rule 5.1 as the news would indeed have been reported with due accuracy” at the time.

The regulator said: “The material time for ensuring that factual circumstances are duly accurate is at the time of the broadcast.

“At the time of this broadcast, the licensee incorrectly stated that the man charged with Mr Horner’s murder had killed him, when, in fact, he had only just been charged.”

As a result of this incident, Downtown is circulating a legal refresher to its news staff, freelances and presenters, and is “planning further legal training” for its news teams, it has said.

It already provided annual media law training focusing on contempt of court, reputation management and the Ofcom code.

Read the full Ofcom ruling here (from page 7).

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