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Last Updated: Wednesday, 13 August 2003, 18:44 GMT 19:44 UK
Complaints upheld against BBC film
Staff Sergeant Simon Cullingworth and Sapper Luke Allsopp
The soldiers were members of a bomb disposal team
Complaints against the BBC for showing footage of two British solders killed in the war in Iraq have been upheld by the broadcaster's own watchdog.

The BBC Governors' Programme Complaints Committee upheld complaints from family members of the two soldiers, Sergeant Simon Cullingworth and Sapper Luke Allsopp, over the use of a clip of the men's bodies in a BBC Two Correspondent programme.

The committee ruled that the programme had not shown there was sufficient and "compelling" public interest in using the images.

The documentary was shown earlier this year on the BBC despite calls from the soldiers' families and Prime Minister Tony Blair not to broadcast the shots of the men, who were members of a bomb disposal unit based at Wimbish in Essex.

The programme could have given an effective account... without the use of the pictures
BBC Programme Complaints Committee
The footage, in which faces were blurred out, showed the two men lying dead in the street.

It was part of a documentary looking at how the Arabic television station al-Jazeera covered the war in Iraq.

A statement from the committee said: "The BBC's editorial guidelines on revisiting past events require programmes to balance the objections of families in such situations against the public interest."

But the committee decided that "the programme could have given an effective account of the nature of al-Jazeera's journalism without the use of the pictures".

Public domain

The two soldiers' families had written to both director general Greg Dyke and chairman Gavyn Davies before the transmission on 1 June, asking for it not to be used.

Downing Street and Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith also urged the BBC not to show the footage.

Justifying the decision to screen the footage, the BBC's deputy director of news, Mark Damazer, said using the footage allowed viewers to see the full visual evidence of why Al-Jazeera's coverage had provoked outrage.

And he said that to leave the footage out would undermine the credibility of the programme.

BBC director of television Jana Bennett, who dealt with the families while Mr Dyke was on leave, said factors in the decision included the footage already being in the public domain.

The fact they were soldiers, who may be expected to be war casualties, rather than civilians was also in their thinking.

The identities of the victims and also their injuries were obscured in a bid to reduce distress and screening was delayed until after their funerals.

Difficult decision

But in giving its judgment, the committee concluded: "The programme could have given an effective account of the nature of al-Jazeera's journalism without the use of the pictures, particularly given the opposition of the families, and that the inclusion of the footage showing the bodies of the British soldiers had not been essential to a proper understanding of the subject of the programme.

"The committee therefore took the view that, on balance, the public interest argument had not been sufficiently compelling and the complaints from Ms Allsopp and Mrs Cullingworth were upheld."

The committee noted BBC management had taken the matter seriously and had been faced with "an extremely difficult decision in trying to balance the public interest against the private distress of the two families".

And it commended the "painstaking process for considering whether the footage should be used in the lead up to transmission", with "a genuine concern for the feelings of the Allsopp and Cullingworth families".

The programme had included footage of dead American soldiers, prisoners of war and Iraqi civilians, to illustrate al-Jazeera's approach.

But the committee noted that, with the level of pixellation to the British soldiers in the BBC documentary, "it was questionable whether viewers in fact got a clear impression of the reality of the footage, which was the object of showing it".

BBC management had been concerned that upholding the complaints could set a precedent.

But the committee thought decisions should be made on a case-by-case basis against the requirements of the BBC's producer guidelines.

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