UK Politics

Ofcom: Channel 4 Rifkind and Straw Dispatches probe 'fair'

Sir Malcolm Rifkind and Jack Straw
Image caption Mr Straw and Sir Malcolm had both denied doing anything wrong

Channel 4 did not break broadcasting rules with its undercover Dispatches investigation into ex-foreign secretaries Jack Straw and Sir Malcolm Rifkind, Ofcom has ruled.

The watchdog said the programme's treatment of the former MPs had been "fair" and in the public interest.

The pair were recorded discussing possible lobbying work with reporters posing as staff of a fake Chinese firm.

Parliament's standards commissioner said neither broke Commons rules.

In her report earlier this year standards commissioner Kathryn Hudson said there had been "errors of judgement" from Sir Malcolm while Mr Straw had breached the code of conduct "by a minor misuse of parliamentary resources".

But she attacked the undercover sting, carried out by Channel 4's Dispatches and the Daily Telegraph, saying that if they "had accurately reported what was said by the two members in their interviews, and measured their words against the rules of the House, it would have been possible to avoid the damage that has been done to the lives of two individuals and those around them, and to the reputation of the House".

The Parliamentary Standards Committee, chaired by Labour MP Sir Kevin Barron, also attacked the programme saying: "By selection and omission the coverage distorted the truth and misled the public as to what had actually taken place."

'Fair manner'

Channel 4 stuck by its story and called in Ofcom to rule on whether it had broken the rules on undercover investigations.

In its report, Ofcom said the makers of Dispatches: Politicians for Hire had "taken reasonable steps to ensure that it avoided unjust or unfair treatment" of Sir Malcolm and Mr Straw.

Image copyright Channel 4 Dispatches / Daily Telegraph

The broadcaster had also "taken reasonable care to satisfy itself that the facts were not presented, disregarded or omitted in a way that portrayed Sir Malcolm Rifkind or Mr Jack Straw unfairly in the programme as broadcast", it added.

The regulator said both men been given enough time to respond to the allegations and their views had been represented in a "fair manner" - and the secret filming used in the programme complied with Ofcom's broadcasting code.

The regulator described the programme as "a serious piece of broadcast journalism," which had "a significant public interest" justification.

'Useful access'

Dispatches Editor Daniel Pearl said he was "delighted" the programme "has been thoroughly vindicated by the independent regulator".

The two then-MPs were secretly filmed by reporters claiming to represent a Hong Kong-based communications agency called PMR which was seeking to hire senior British politicians to join its advisory board.

Sir Malcolm was said to have claimed that he could arrange "useful access" to every British ambassador in the world because of his status, while Mr Straw boasted of operating "under the radar" to use his influence to change European Union rules on behalf of a commodity firm which paid him £60,000 a year.

In a statement following the standards commissioner's ruling, Sir Malcolm said: "Channel 4 Dispatches and the Daily Telegraph must recognise the judgment of the Standards Commissioner and the Standards Committee that they were responsible for 'distortion' and for misleading the public in making these allegations."

Mr Straw said: "Throughout my 36 years' parliamentary career I took great care to act with probity and to treat the rules of the House of Commons with the greatest respect. I am most grateful to the Committee on Standards for confirming this."

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