Saturday 13 November 2010

OFCOM: 'Bullying Grieving Orphans Doesn't Break Any of Our Rules' - Watchdog refuses to take action as ITV destroys the evidence

On Thursday afternoon, just two days after Kelvin MacKenzie used breakfast programme 'This Morning' to attack Michael Jackson and his children, regulatory body OFCOM claimed to have conducted an investigation into the incident and said they wouldn't be taking any action over the complaints they'd received.

The watchdog, who wouldn't reveal how many complaints had been made about the programme, released the following statement: "Whilst we understand that some viewers may have been offended; it does not break any of our rules. The complaints have not been upheld."

The statement is both glib and inaccurate. At least one rule was unarguably broken; Section 7.11 of OFCOM's broadcast code demands 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."

Kelvin MacKenzie undeniably used 'This Morning' as an outlet to accuse Jackson of significant wrongdoing, raising the singer's 2005 trial and saying that his death could have 'saved some children from a lifetime of mental corruption'. It's also undeniable that 'This Morning' did not give the star's family or estate an appropriate and timely opportunity to respond. There's a strong argument to be made that at least four other sections of the OFCOM code were breached as well. You can read about that in my last blog entry.

OFCOM's reaction is unsurprising. Like the PCC, where Michael Jackson is concerned OFCOM isn't interested in taking action over even the most blatant breaches of their broadcasting code.

In 2003, when Martin Bashir's 'Living With Michael Jackson' was aired, OFCOM was hit with an extraordinary number of complaints about Bashir's conduct - including a complaint from Jackson himself.

Jackson's footage, along with correspondence, proved that Bashir had lied about the subject of his documentary, lied about interviewing Jackson's friends like Elizabeth Taylor, set-up filming opportunities and then sneered at them in voiceover, omitted vital comments from Jackson, and used sneaky editing and snarky voiceover to give a misleading impression of Jackson's words and behaviour.

OFCOM took no action.

In 2007 Jacques Peretti made a documentary even more offensive than Bashir's. Watching the show with a notepad in hand, I counted almost one factual inaccuracy per minute of screentime. As well as misstating facts and evidence throughout the entire show, Peretti specifically sought out interviewees who disliked Jackson and had a history of lying about him.

Two of Peretti's talking heads - Diane Dimond and Victor Guttierrez - were sued by Jackson for millions of dollars in 1995 after the pair appeared on US TV show 'Hard Copy' and claimed to have a videotape of Jackson molesting a child. Jackson challenged them to produce the videotape and they couldn't.

Dimond used her friendship with DA Tom Sneddon to extract herself from the lawsuit but Jackson successfully sued Guttierrez and he was ordered to pay the star millions of dollars in legal fees and compensation. Instead he skipped the country and never coughed up the cash. Both Dimond and Guttierrez were interviewed in Peretti's documentary and the presenter didn't see fit to mention this lawsuit when introducing either of them, instead allowing them to masquerade as Jackson experts.

Another of Peretti's talking heads - former Jackson aide Bob Jones - admitted during his testimony at the star's trial in 2005 that his book on Jackson included embellishments to make it more enticing to publishers and public alike. The embellishments included a claim that he'd seen Jackson lick a child's head - a story he admitted on the stand was a fabrication. Peretti didn't see fit to mention this either.

The only pro-Jackson talking head and indeed the only real authority on Jackson's trial - lawyer Thomas Mesereau - was given roughly one minute of screentime and Peretti dismissed his comments by insinuating that he was money driven and Jackson had simply bought justice by hiring an expensive lawyer. On top of all this, Peretti at one point overtly stated that Jackson and Jordy Chandler had been 'in a relationship' and wrongly claimed that the boy had accurately described Jackson's genitals.

OFCOM dismissed all complaints about the programme on the extremely tenuous basis that some of them had been sent in before the show aired. But what of the complaints received afterwards? OFCOM didn't care.

OFCOM has a history of ignoring completely valid complaints about the media's treatment of Jackson and their dismissal of the complaints over MacKenzie's rant is simply another in a long line of travesties committed by the body against the singer and his family.

Bizarrely, on the same day that OFCOM announced that there was nothing wrong with MacKenzie's outburst, ITV seemed to reach the opposite conclusion. Although they still refuse to give Jackson's family and fans an on-air apology, or even an apology by telephone or email, ITV has removed MacKenzie's comments from the online version of the programme. Two days ago, Tuesday's episode of 'This Morning' briefly disappeared from the station's online catch-up service, the ITVPlayer. When it re-appeared, the entire discussion about Michael Jackson and his children had been deleted.

There's no question that the removal of MacKenzie's comments from the online version of the programme was a direct response to the barrage of complaints sent to the station and to OFCOM in the preceding days. OFCOM acknowledged in an email to me that they had requested footage of Tuesday's 'This Morning' from ITV, meaning ITV will have been aware that an OFCOM investigation into MacKenzie's comments was now being conducted. Perhaps foreseeing a potential PR disaster, ITV appears to have then removed the footage from their website, preventing new viewers from watching the clip and complaining about it and also preventing newspaper journalists from watching the footage and quoting it.

What we are witnessing is a cover-up and a clumsy one at that. OFCOM denies any rules were broken in spite of overwhelming evidence to the contrary and now ITV staff are trying to destroy that evidence before the media can get hold of it.