UK: Ofcom Finds Dispatches Episode On London Marathon Partly Unfair

Last Updated: 2 August 2011
Article by Tim Hardy, Susan Barty and Joe Smith

On 9 April 2010, Channel 4 broadcast a Dispatches episode which criticised the organising and the charitable fundraising of the London Marathon. The London Marathon Limited and the London Marathon Charitable Trust Limited subsequently complained of unfair treatment to Ofcom, which recently published its decision. Although the summary refers to the complaint being "partly upheld", and despite having agreed that a number of allegations had been made where there had been no prior notice and therefore no opportunity to respond, Ofcom found overall that the programme-makers were not unfair in their dealings with the complainants, and upheld only one of 38 parts of the complaint.

The complaint

The London Marathon Limited ("London Marathon") and The London Marathon Charitable Trust Limited ("London Marathon Trust") complained to Ofcom following the broadcast of a Dispatches episode entitled Tracing the Marathon Millions. The episode was critical of the London Marathon event, analysing the allotment of places to individual runners and to charities, and alleging a lack of transparency by the organisers.

The complaint was in 38 parts, and alleged unfair treatment in respect of a number of issues. The complainants considered that the programme-makers did not treat them fairly. They complained that the programme-makers did not return telephone calls or meet with the London Marathon event organisers, nor did they obtain fully informed consent from the London Marathon and the London Marathon Trust as to their participation, as they did not inform the complainants of the names of a number of contributors or the nature of their likely contributions. The complainants also claimed that they were not given an appropriate or timely opportunity to respond to allegations made in the programme, and that the broadcast did not include the short statement of response which they had prepared. Finally, the complainants stated that the programme-makers omitted or disregarded material facts.

Ofcom's decision

Ofcom addressed a number of the complaints by considering in particular the following provisions of Practice 7 of its Broadcasting Code which deals with fairness:

  • Practice 7.2, which states that broadcasters and programme makers should normally be fair in their dealings with potential contributors to programmes unless there is exceptional reason which justifies otherwise;
  • Practice 7.3, which states that where a person is invited to make a contribution to a programme, they should normally be told about the nature and the purpose of the programme, what sort of contribution is expected, the area of questioning and the nature of any other likely contributors;
  • Practice 7.9, which demands that broadcasters take reasonable care to satisfy themselves that material facts have not been omitted or disregarded in an unfair manner; and
  • Practice 7.11, which states that if a programme alleges wrongdoing or incompetence or makes other significant allegations, those concerned should normally be given an appropriate and timely opportunity to respond.

Although Ofcom accepted that the programme made serious criticism of the London Marathon, Ofcom found that Channel 4's programme had not treated the London Marathon and the London Marathon Trust unfairly in all but one of the 38 parts of the complaint. Ofcom found that Channel 4 had provided the complainants with adequate information about the programme and with sufficient time to respond to the criticisms (the initial letter which is said to have been long and detailed was sent 17 working days before the broadcast, and another letter some 7 days prior to that). Ofcom also found that the programme did not omit or disregard pertinent information in a way to prejudice the London Marathon event, on the basis that information had been included in the broadcast statements, or that the information was irrelevant or immaterial. Similarly, Channel 4 was not obliged to use a short statement which the London Marathon and the London Marathon Trust had prepared for the broadcast, notwithstanding that it had been marked "to be used in full or not at all".

Part of complaint upheld

The part of the complaint that Ofcom found to be unfair concerned Dispatches' statement that the London Marathon and the London Marathon Trust were "not always consistent" when it came to explanations regarding amounts of money going towards grants. This statement only relied on one illustration, which was an email stating that £31 million had been awarded in grants since 1981, rather than the otherwise standard quoted figure of £35 million. However, London Marathon had explained prior to broadcast that this was merely a typographical error and that in all other instances it had consistently provided the figure of £35 million. Ofcom found that it was unfair to make a broad statement based on one single typographical error in the context of widespread correct publicity, as this is not an example of persistent inconsistency.

Comment

This decision demonstrates a number of potential pitfalls when dealing with broadcasters in relation to investigative journalism and documentaries. This also serves as a reminder that it is always important to understand and anticipate the approach which is likely to be taken in a particular broadcast and to deal carefully with programme researchers and producers.

By referring to some of the key provisions of the Ofcom Broadcasting Code in terms of seeking to hold broadcasters to account, the decision provides a highly detailed analysis of particular aspects of a programme that can contribute to a general tenor of unfairness. However, even where there is a general tenor of unfairness, it does not mean that Ofcom will find that there has been a breach of its Broadcasting Code. Channel 4 had taken a strong line, in particular as to whether certain allegations should have been put to the complainants. Ofcom appears to have accepted this approach, concluding that there was no unfairness, for example, on the basis that some information was public information or that a response was provided from elsewhere. Some aspects of Ofcom's conclusions were more expected than others. For example, the 17-day period from the detailed letter to the date of the programme itself would have made it difficult to succeed on a complaint that an appropriate and timely opportunity to respond had not been given, at least on the issues raised in that letter. Indeed, broadcasters regularly give only 10 days or less to respond. However, in this case, Ofcom somewhat surprisingly concluded that a number of allegations made in the programme did not, in fact, amount to allegations of wrongdoing or incompetence, or other significant allegations, and that the broadcast was therefore not unfair to the complainants.

It is difficult fully to identify how Ofcom could justify its findings as to what constitutes an allegation of wrongdoing, or another significant allegation, and what does not. Ofcom's decisions can be escalated through their complaints procedure internally or challenged by means of judicial review. It will be interesting to see whether the London Marathon and/ or the London Marathon Trust take any further steps in relation to this programme.

Please click here for Ofcom's latest Broadcast Bulletin publishing the decision.

This article was written for Law-Now, CMS Cameron McKenna's free online information service. To register for Law-Now, please go to www.law-now.com/law-now/mondaq

Law-Now information is for general purposes and guidance only. The information and opinions expressed in all Law-Now articles are not necessarily comprehensive and do not purport to give professional or legal advice. All Law-Now information relates to circumstances prevailing at the date of its original publication and may not have been updated to reflect subsequent developments.

The original publication date for this article was 27/07/2011.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Authors
 
In association with
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Tools
Print
Font Size:
Translation
Channels
Mondaq on Twitter
 
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
 
Email Address
Company Name
Password
Confirm Password
Position
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Accounting
 Anti-trust
 Commercial
 Compliance
 Consumer
 Criminal
 Employment
 Energy
 Environment
 Family
 Finance
 Government
 Healthcare
 Immigration
 Insolvency
 Insurance
 International
 IP
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Litigation
 Media & IT
 Privacy
 Real Estate
 Strategy
 Tax
 Technology
 Transport
 Wealth Mgt
Regions
Africa
Asia
Asia Pacific
Australasia
Canada
Caribbean
Europe
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
U.K.
United States
Worldwide Updates
Check to state you have read and
agree to our Terms and Conditions

Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement

Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

Use of www.mondaq.com

You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about Mondaq.com’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.

Disclaimer

Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.

Registration

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here .

If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq by clicking here .

Information Collection and Use

We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to unsubscribe@mondaq.com with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

Mondaq News Alerts

In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.

Cookies

A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

Log Files

We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.

Links

This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

Surveys & Contests

From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.

Mail-A-Friend

If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.

Security

This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to webmaster@mondaq.com.

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to EditorialAdvisor@mondaq.com.

Notification of Changes

If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

How to contact Mondaq

You can contact us with comments or queries at enquiries@mondaq.com.

If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at problems@mondaq.com and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.