24 viewers wrote in to the regulator complaining that comments made regarding the BBC by anchor John Gibson during The Big Story were "misleading???, “went far beyond reasoned criticism??? and “misrepresented the truth."
The segment aired in January, in the aftermath of the Hutton Report into the Dr. David Kelly affair. Gibson alleged that the BBC had "a frothing-at-the-mouth anti-Americanism that was obsessive, irrational and dishonest," and "felt entitled to lie and, when caught lying, felt entitled to defend its lying reporters and executives." Gibson also alleged that reporter Andrew Gilligan "insisted on air that the Iraqi Army was heroically repulsing an incompetent American Military," and that "the BBC, far from blaming itself, insisted its reporter had a right to lie – exaggerate – because, well, the BBC knew that the war was wrong, and anything they could say to underscore that point had to be right."
What follows in Ofcom's report is a justification from Fox News and a rebuttal from Ofcom to each of Gibson's remarks in turn.
- "a frothing-at-the-mouth anti-Americanism..."
Fox News via Ofcom: 'Fox News said that the BBC had appointed a special executive to monitor ‘pro-Arab’ bias at the network; that tapping the phrase “BBC anti-American??? into Google resulted in 47,200 hits; that the BBC “continually bashed??? American policy and ridiculed the American President; and persecuted Tony Blair because he was pro-American. These facts justified the phrase “frothing-at-the-mouth anti-Americanism that was obsessive, irrational and dishonest???.'
Ofcom response: 'Ofcom does not accept that Fox News’s claim that an appointment of a monitor to detect ‘pro-Arab’ bias is proof of an “anti-Americanism that was obsessive, irrational and dishonest??? within the BBC. Similarly, we do not believe that a simple Internet search for the words “BBC??? and “anti-American??? is sufficient evidence to back-up such a statement. (An Internet search will only identify those sites which contain those words, it will not make any editorial judgement over how those words are used). Fox News stated that the BBC’s approach was “irrational??? and “dishonest???. However, it did not provide any evidence other than to say the BBC bashed American policy; or that it ridiculed the US President without any analysis; and that it persecuted Tony Blair.'
- "[The BBC] felt entitled to lie..."
Fox News via Ofcom: 'The BBC “felt entitled to lie and, when caught lying, felt entitled to defend its lying reporters and executives??? was a summation of the BBC’s response to the complaint against Andrew Gilligan’s embellishment of his interview with Dr David Kelly.'
Ofcom response: 'We do not accept that the Hutton Inquiry supported the statement that the “BBC felt entitled to lie and when caught lying, felt entitled to defend its lying???. The Inquiry stated that BBC editorial system was “defective???. At no stage did Hutton accuse the BBC management of lying.'
- "[Gilligan] insisted on air that the Iraqi Army was heroically repulsing an incompetent American Military..."
Fox News via Ofcom: 'Fox News accepted that Andrew Gilligan had not actually said the words that John Gibson appeared to attribute to him. However, Gibson was paraphrasing Gilligan’s words on April 5 2003 when, as US troops moved towards Baghdad, he said “I’m at the centre of Baghdad … and I don’t see anything, but the Americans have a history of making these premature announcements???. The Iraqi Minister of Information said that the Iraqis had recaptured the airport, which Gilligan and the BBC, Fox News contended, accepted at face value.'
Ofcom response: 'Fox News argue that the presenter was not directly quoting Gilligan when he claimed that the reporter “insisted on air that the Iraqi Army was heroically repulsing an incompetent American Military???. However, the manner in which John Gibson delivered these lines and the fact that he indicated that Gilligan said it “on-air??? gave the distinct impression that he was quoting Gilligan directly. It did not appear that he was summarising Gilligan’s reporting. Furthermore, Fox News failed to provide any evidence, except that it felt that Gilligan’s reporting of the US advance into Baghdad was incorrect, that supported this statement.'
- "...the BBC, far from blaming itself, insisted its reporter had a right to lie..."
Fox News via Ofcom: 'When it became clear that Gilligan’s source, Dr David Kelly, was not as highly placed in the Government as Gilligan had claimed, BBC executives did not relay their concerns to editorial staff as quickly as they should have done, with the result that Gilligan’s story gained currency. BBC executives at the highest level “argued that the higher form of journalism practised by the BBC required their vigorous defence of Gilligan???. This supported Gibson’s statement that “the BBC … insisted its reporter had a right to lie???. It was clear from their reporting of the war, argued Fox News, that the BBC took a position that the war was wrong. Fox News did not contact the BBC for a reaction or response to John Gibson’s comments since this “segment is reserved for his opinion only???. But it pointed to an earlier news report that day from London about the Hutton Inquiry.'
Ofcom response: 'As previously stated the Hutton Inquiry concluded that the BBC editorial system was “defective???. There is no evidence, and Fox News did not provide any, that the BBC “insisted its reporter had a right to lie???. Fox News argue that from its “study of BBC reporting??? it could claim that the “BBC knew that the war was wrong???. Fox News’s “study??? appears to be based on its own viewing and listening of BBC services. It could provide nothing more than this statement to back up this assertion.'
Ofcom concluded: "We recognise 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. 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.
"Even taking into account that this was a ‘personal view’ item, the strength and number of allegations that John Gibson made against the BBC meant that Fox News should have offered the BBC an opportunity to respond."