Fox News censured

LONDON – Fox News has been strongly criticized by the media watchdog Ofcom over a program in which it accused the BBC of lying and of adopting a “frothing-at-the-mouth anti-Americanism.”

Ofcom upheld more than 20 complaints about the program, in which Fox News anchor John Gibson said the BBC had “felt entitled to lie and, when caught lying, felt entitled to defend its lying reporters and executives.”

The program, broadcast Jan. 28, sparked 24 complaints to Ofcom, the regulator for the UK’s communications industries, with viewers claiming it was “misleading,” “went far beyond reasoned criticism” and “misrepresented the truth.”

In it Gibson claimed BBC reporter Andrew Gilligan had “insisted on air that the Iraqi army was heroically repulsing an incompetent American military” and said the BBC had responded to complaints by Downing Street by insisting “its reporter had a right to lie – exaggerate – because, well, the BBC knew the war was wrong.”

He finished his report by saying: “So the next time you hear the BBC bragging about how much superior the Brits are delivering the news rather than Americans who wear flags in their lapels, remember it was the Beeb [the BBC] caught lying.”

The strength of Gibson’s comments, made in a regular Fox News slot titled “My Word” in which a presenter offers a personal take on the events of the day, shocked many in the UK.

But Fox News defended its program, insisting the BBC had “continually bashed” U.S. policy and ridiculed the president, and saying this justified the use of the phrase “frothing-at-the-mouth anti-Americanism.”

Although Fox accepted that Gilligan had not actually used the phrase attributed to him in the program, it said Gibson had paraphrased the BBC reporter’s words of April 5 last year, when he said: “I’m at the center of Baghdad ... and I don’t see anything, but the Americans have a history of making these premature announcements.”

The network admitted it had not offered the BBC the opportunity to comment on Gibson’s accusations, saying this was because the program in question was “reserved for his opinion only.”

However, Ofcom rejected Fox’s defense and ruled that it had breached the program code on three separate counts by failing to pay due respect for the truth; failing to offer the BBC the opportunity to take part, and by broadcasting opinions based on false evidence.

“We recognize how important freedom of expression is within the media. This item was part of a well-established spot, in which the presenter put forwards his own opinion in an uncompromising manner. However, such items should not make false statements by undermining facts,” the regulator said. “Fox News was unable to provide any substantial evidence to support the overall allegation that the BBC management had lied and the BBC had an anti-American obsession. It had also incorrectly attributed quotes to the reporter Andrew Gilligan.”

Fox News was widely criticized for its cheerleading during last year’s war in Iraq. Star interviewer Bill O’Reilly told viewers the U.S. should go in and “splatter” the Iraqis.

– Excerpted from Media.Guardian.co.uk