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Friday, December 18, 1998 Published at 12:06 GMT


Carlton fined £2m for 'faked' documentary

The inquiry followed a report in The Guardian

The independent television company, Carlton, has been fined £2m for a documentary in which actors pretended to be drug traffickers.

Media correspondent Nick Higham: "This is a blow to Carlton's prestige"
The programme, The Connection, was made by independent producer Marc de Beaufort for Carlton's Central Television subsidiary and shown on the ITV network in October 1996.

The Independent Television Commission imposed the fine on the company - which also owns the London weekday franchise - after receiving a report from a panel of experts.

The ITC said it also "seriously considered" shortening Carlton's Central franchise - which covers the Midlands - in the wake of the debacle.

The programme claimed to show evidence of a new heroin trafficking route from Colombia to the UK.

Showered with praise

It was feted with praise and awards but an investigation by The Guardian newspaper revealed it was a sham.

The ITC found the programme makers guilty of breaching the ITC Programme Code. It said:

  • Evidence for a new heroin route to the UK does not exist.
  • The programme-makers did not risk their lives as claimed.
  • The cartel leader was not the person interviewed in the programme and the "secret location" for the interview was the producer's hotel bedroom.
  • Actors pretended to be drug-runners and the heroin shown was in fact sweets.
  • A drugs "mule" seen apparently boarding a plane destined for London had never left Colombia.

The ITC has also ordered Carlton to broadcast an apology on the ITV network.

ITC chairman Sir Robin Biggam said Carlton was guilty of a "wholesale breach of trust" with the viewers.

He said: "The programme set out with ambitious claims to demonstrate the existence of a major new route for drug-running into the UK. But much of what was offered as evidence used to substantiate this was fake."

'Viewers were deceived'

Sir Robin said: "The size of the financial penalty imposed by the ITC reflects the scale of the programme's ambition and the consequent degree of deception of viewers."

He warned them any repetition would lead to a more severe sanction.

But he said: "The ITC has been given assurances by Carlton that new procedures and personnel are in place to prevent a repetition of such breaches of the Code."

Sir Robin went on to criticise the "process of casualisation" in the industry which has meant fewer documentary makers are actually employed directly by major television companies such as Carlton.

The Guardian's editor, Alan Rusbridger, said: "The panel has identified nearly 20 important deceptions in an hour-long programme which won eight awards and was shown in 14 countries.

"To be confronted with quite such damning evidence of false film-making should act as a wake-up to the whole industry."

The ITC also considered allegations by The Guardian that publicity for a previous Central documentary had falsely claimed an interview with President Fidel Castro of Cuba as an exclusive.

It found no such claims were made in the programme or in on-screen trailers.

Carlton's director of broadcasting, Nigel Walmsley, said: "The panel's report made a number of important recommendations to improve supervisory and compliance procedures. These are being implemented in full."

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