Press TV rapped for flotilla show

Iranian-backed Press TV has been censured by Ofcom, the broadcasting standards body, for its coverage of the Gaza flotilla incident.

A show presented by Tony Blair's sister-in-law, Lauren Booth, breached guidelines on impartiality by including comments relating to Israel "committing a massacre of innocent civilians" and "a barbarous attack".

The regulator said the station had failed to be impartial during the June 5 broadcast of Remembering Palestine.The programme dealt exclusively with events surrounding the interception of the pro-Palestinian convoy off the coast of Gaza by Israeli commandos. Ms Booth interviewed studio guests and flotilla participants.

Ofcom said the show had started with "a pro-Palestinian song set to anti-Israeli/pro-Palestinian imagery". Comments made by Ms Booth and her guests "could be interpreted as being highly critical of the actions of the Israeli government and its military forces."

The comments included:

● Ms Booth: "Israeli commandos …committed a massacre of innocent civilians sailing aid ships to the besieged Gaza Strip."

● Ms Booth: "This was obviously a barbarous attack on civilians. One thing is certain: As Turkey buries its murdered citizens…the brave men and women on those ships, in one move, have shifted world opinion against Israeli apartheid."

● Press TV correspondent Yousef Al-Helou: "Israel's piracy in the Mediterranean Sea ended with a massacre." Press TV defended the comments and claimed further remarks had defended Israel's action. The broadcaster said comments had provided the audience with "the Israeli viewpoint".

But Ofcom found Press TV had presented the comments in its defence out of context and said the remarks in the show had been made "not as the stated position of the Israeli government, but as part of questions put to guests…

"When seen in full context, it is apparent that these comments…gave the opportunity for the programme to criticise the Israeli government."

An Israeli Embassy spokesman said: "This is a timely reminder that owning a television station in the West does not equate to conforming to a Western standards of journalism.

"It is an example to those who despair at unethical media that this remains a battle which can produce results."

There is no formal punishment for the breach of Ofcom's rule 5.5 on impartiality, but the censure will be recorded.

    Last updated: 11:16am, August 5 2010