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Newsbeat found in breach of two Ofcom broadcast rules

Newsbeat has been found in breach of two Ofcom broadcast rules after broadcasting a news item about an individual who is fighting in Syria for ISIS.

The lunchtime edition of the BBC Radio 1 show on 13th June 2014, included clips from a third party podcast of Abu Sumayyah who appeared to endorse the extreme violent activities of ISIS, describing them as “actually quite fun”. Abu Sumayyah also likened armed combat with ISIS as being “better” than playing a violent video game, ‘Call of Duty’.

One complainant suggested that this interview had “glorified terrorism by likening killing innocent people to playing” a computer game.

Ofcom said there was no context or warning provided around the first statement by Abu Sumayyah included during the opening headlines to the programme: “It’s actually quite fun, better than, how you would say what’s that game called, ‘Call of Duty’? It’s like that, but really, you know, 3-D, you know. You can see everything’s happening in front of you, you know, it’s real, you know what I mean?”

The regulator also noted that the main news item featuring Abu Sumayyah was included in this programme immediately following a much more light-hearted item concerning the football World Cup in Brazil. “In our view, the content of this preceding news item would not have prepared listeners for the content and tone of the following news item featuring Abu Sumayyah,” Ofcom said.

Ofcom listened to the audio and said the news item was not appropriately scheduled. It agreed with the BBC who said, in response, it should have been accompanied by more contextual information, and, with hindsight, it should have been preceded by a warning. “We considered that this statement by Abu Sumayyah, an ISIS fighter, originally from the UK, had clear potential for causing offence,” Ofcom said.

The BBC said that more explanation could have been given about the way that this interview had been obtained, and that the interview had been conducted for a non-BBC podcast…could have been made clearer. The BBC added that Newsbeat: “routinely gives warnings on air about such material and it was an oversight not to have done so on this occasion.”

The BBC also said that this news item was also part of “a major running story for Newsbeat” and in June 2014 alone Radio 1 had broadcast “18 stories about ISIS in its bulletins or programmes”

Ofcom said that both the headline and the main news item were capable of causing a significant degree of offence and although some context was provided, there wasn’t enough background contextual information on the issue of ISIS and jihadism generally.

“None of the contextual information challenged or rebutted specifically the positive and personal description that Abu Sumayyah provided in the report of his experiences fighting as a member of ISIS in Syria,” Ofcom said.

The regulator continued: “There was not any content that could be described as specifically contradicting Abu Sumayyah’s overall positive assessment of being a member of ISIS, nor was there any comment from the reporter pointing out that Abu Sumayyah’s experience was that of just one individual and therefore it might not be at all typical.”

The BBC has taken measures to ensure the chances of an error of this type reoccurring are ‘significantly reduced’.

The content of the whole Newsbeat news item was as follows:

Newsbeat presenter:

“Let’s take you to Iraq. [Sound of machine gun fire]. The United Nations says
Islamist fighters have now started executing civilians and soldiers in the country’s
second biggest city. Seventeen people were shot on one street. The fighters are
from ISIS, a group that broke away from Al-Qaeda. They want to create a strict
Islamic state across Iraq and Syria. Here’s President Obama”.

Clip of President Obama:

“What we’ve seen over the last couple of days indicates the degree to which
Iraq’s gonna need more help. I don’t rule out anything, because we do have a
stake in making sure that these Jihadists are not getting a permanent foothold”.

Newsbeat presenter:

“This all comes as one British man reveals what’s it’s like to fight with ISIS in
Syria. Newsbeat’s Anna Collinson’s been listening to this rare interview”.

Newsbeat reporter (Anna Collinson):

“He’s a man from Britain with three kids. But 11 months ago Abu Sumayyah left it
all behind to fight what he calls a holy war”.

Abu Sumayyah:

“The first time I ever heard a bomb, I realised then, ‘Okay, you know, this is scary
you know?’”

Newsbeat reporter (Anna Collinson):

“Sumayyah has joined the ISIS group, who have taken control of parts of Syria
and Iraq. He’s been speaking to presenters Jonathan Krohn and Emma Beales,
who host the ISIS Show podcast”.

Journalist in ISIS Show podcast (Jonathan Krohn):

“What’s that noise? Very foreboding”.

Abu Sumayyah:

“A lot of bombing going on at the moment, it’s quite far away, but, er, you can
hear it”.

Newsbeat reporter (Anna Collinson):

“Sumayyah says he’s speaking from an internet café near his training camp in
North West Syria. ISIS is also one of the main groups fighting government forces
there”.

Abu Sumayyah:

“For us to be here, it’s freedom, totally freedom. I can walk around with a
Kalashnikov if I want to, with a RPG4, if I want to”.

Newsbeat reporter (Anna Collinson):

“Sumayyah hasn’t spoken to his children since he left the UK. He claims the
Home Office has taken away his British citizenship. They’ve told Newsbeat they
can’t comment”.

Abu Sumayyah:

“This idea of us wanting to go back and plot terror attacks in our own countries
and so on and so forth, I think is absolute rubbish. We’re having the good life
here, you know?”

Newsbeat reporter (Anna Collinson):

“Sumayyah says he has no plans to go back to the UK”.

Abu Sumayyah:

“For me, I felt like I was in prison in that country [the UK]. You need, er, road tax,
you need this, and you need that and blah, blah, blah. It’s just money-making
schemes”.

Newsbeat reporter (Anna Collinson):

“Some say ISIS is overtaking Al-Qaeda as one of the world’s most dangerous
Jihadist organisations. Sumayyah says what they are fighting for is right”.

Abu Sumayyah:

“It’s actually quite fun, better than, how you would say what’s that game called,
‘Call of Duty’? It’s like that, but really, you know, 3-D, you know. You can see
everything’s happening in front of you, you know, it’s real, you know what I
mean?”

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