Ofcom probes undercover Al Jazeera film
THE AL Jazeera documentary which attempted to uncover links between the Israeli embassy in London and British political and student groups is to be the subject of a formal investigation by media watchdog Ofcom.
The Lobby — which aired on the Qatari-owned channel in January — was already the subject of four separate complaints over its allegation that the embassy was trying to influence groups such as the Labour Friends of Israel and the Jewish Labour Movement.
It was confirmed on Monday that a formal investigation into The Lobby was now under way, with the probe looking specifically at two categories — breaches of content standards, and fairness and privacy.
“We are investigating whether this programme complied with our rules on due impartiality and offence, and whether it materially misled the audience,” an Ofcom spokesman confirmed.
The Jewish Leadership Council was one group known to have written to Ofcom to lodge a complaint about the four-part programme. Pro-Israel campaigner Jonathan Hoffman was another to have registered a complaint.
Simon Johnson, chief executive of the JLC, said in February that the group had filed a formal complaint with Ofcom on behalf of JLC employees and member organisations. At the time, Mr Johnson said: “The complaint alleges that the programmes on Al Jazeera infringed the Ofcom code in relation to fairness, privacy and due impartiality.”
The latest edition of Ofcom’s official TV complaint bulletin lists cases that have been assessed and deemed to not be in breach of strict guidelines — as well as those which may have a case to answer.
The Lobby is listed as one show being investigated. But Ofcom stresses that a formal investigation does not necessarily mean the broadcaster has done anything wrong.
Mr Hoffman told the JC on Monday: “Most complaints to Ofcom do not move to the formal investigation stage. The news that this one has — moreover in two categories — is therefore very welcome.”
The documentary featured recordings, obtained by an undercover reporter, of Shai Masot, a junior Israeli embassy employee, who was heard joking about “taking down” MPs critical of Israeli settlements.
Mr Masot was sent back to Israel by the embassy.
The footage prompted questions in the House of Commons, with Speaker John Bercow describing it as a “serious concern”.
The documentary also led to the resignation of Maria Strizzolo, a former chief of staff to Conservative MP Robert Halfon.
Israeli Ambassador Mark Regev apologised to Foreign Office Minister Alan Duncan.
Shai Masot was caught on camera by Al Jazeera