Archive page for Apr 30, 2003 *

adjudication

Complaint about unjust or unfair treatment by Mr Farooq Yusof submitted on 8 June 2001 about Tonight With Trevor McDonald, broadcast by Granada on ITV on 8 March 2001

1. Introduction

On 8 March 2001, Granada broadcast on ITV an edition of Tonight With Trevor McDonald, which reported on the story of Ms Sufiah Yusof, who at the age of 16, ran away whilst at Oxford University to escape the alleged control of her father, Mr Farooq Yusof. Mr Yusof was referred to throughout the item and took part in an interview. Mr Yusof complained to the Broadcasting Standards Commission that he had been treated unjustly or unfairly in the programme.

2. The Complaint

Mr Yusof complained that he had been treated unjustly or unfairly in that:

a) the programme-makers had misled him as to the nature of the programme, and his involvement in the programme had been gained under false pretences;

b) pre-broadcast assurances had not been adhered to and;

c) the footage in the programme had been unfairly edited in favour of his daughter.

a) Misled Mr Yusof said that he had been misled by the programme-makers as to the nature of the programme. His involvement in it had been gained under false pretences. He said that had he known that the programme would be based on a confrontation between himself and his daughter, Sufiah, he would not have agreed to take part.

Mr Yusof said that the programme’s interviewer, Mr Martin Bashir, had sympathised with him and his family and had offered to lend his assistance in trying to find the truth about Sufiah’s disappearance. Mr Yusof said that he had made it clear to Mr Bashir that he and his family had no intention of participating in a programme that would result in their confronting Sufiah.

Mr Bashir had assured him that this would not be the case.

Mr Yusof said that in a meeting held at his home on 31 January 2001, Mr Bashir had explained that the purpose of wanting to interview him was to expose the problems he had had with social services. He had confirmed that the programme would not include an interview with his daughter.

Mr Yusof said that Mr Bashir had told him he had a duty to the public to expose the social services and that, by implication, Mr Yusof also had a duty to assist. Mr Yusof said that he had felt pressured by Mr Bashir into giving the interview as he felt that if he did not agree, the information that Mr Bashir had said that he had obtained about his daughter’s disappearance would not be forthcoming.

He said that on the day of the interview, Mr Bashir had again reassured him that he would not be attacking either him or his family, but that he would be examining the failure of the official bodies involved in the case.

However, Mr Yusof said that towards the end of the interview, Mr Bashir began to question him about an e-mail which was alleged to have been sent by Sufiah, although its authorship was disputed, and other matters that he had not expected.

He said that he had asked Mr Bashir to stop filming. He considered Mr Bashir’s behaviour to have been in breach of the agreement he had believed existed. Granada said that the programme-makers, and Mr Bashir in particular, had approached the story of Sufiah’s disappearance with open minds and had sought to examine, objectively, a significant issue that had received extensive newspaper coverage.

They said that it had not been the programme’s intention to create or portray a confrontation between Mr Yusof and his daughter.

However, Granada said that Mr Yusof had repeatedly sought media support. For him to complain that he would not have agreed to involve himself in a programme were it to prove confrontational was unjustifiable in the circumstances.

Granada said that the breakdown in the relationship between Sufiah and her family pre-dated the programme. Her running away in June 2000 and her subsequent e-mails had illustrated the severity of the breakdown that had occurred well in advance of the programme-makers’ contact with either father or daughter.

Granada said that to blame a single television programme for Sufiah’s reaction to her parents was to avoid the only obvious conclusion: that she had run away from Oxford and her family because of the most serious breakdown in relationships.

Granada said that Mr Yusof’s involvement in the programme had not been secured under false pretences. They said that he had been made fully aware that, in order to understand fully and underpin any story about his daughter’s disappearance, it would be necessary to pursue all possible lines of enquiry.  They said that Mr Yusof had also been told that the programme could not and would not serve as a vehicle for advancing his own claims without establishing proper evidential support.

The programme-makers had given equal weight, during the research stage, to his claim that he and his family had been the victim of a state-sponsored conspiracy and to alternative views about why his daughter had disappeared from Oxford. Granada said that the disputed e-mail had provided a significant illustration of the situation facing the production team.

Mr Yusof had resolutely claimed that his daughter had not written an e-mail that was critical of him. The production team had had to examine those claims thoroughly. They had established that the police had verified the authorship of the e-mail; that social services had confirmed it; and that Sufiah had made it clear that she had written it.

The programme therefore did not support Mr Yusof’s hypothesis that the email was written by someone other than Sufiah. However, once that had been established, Mr Yusof had chosen to cease co-operating.

At the hearing held by the Commission to consider the complaint, Granada said that the purpose of the programme had been to find out the truth surrounding Sufiah’s disappearance. They had not known whether interview footage of both Mr Yusof and Sufiah would be included. They said that if Mr Yusof had asked them if Sufiah was also being interviewed for the programme they would have told him.

However, Mr Bashir had been cautious about what information was disclosed at that stage as he was aware that Sufiah was under the protection of the court and that he had not wanted to breach its conditions.

b) Pre-broadcast assurances

Mr Yusof said that Mr Bashir had assured him that he would be able to view the programme before transmission; that the programme would not be shown until after the conclusion of the family court proceedings; and that it would not involve his daughter.

He said that none of these assurances was adhered to. Granada said that Mr Bashir had confirmed that no commitments were made to provide a pre-transmission viewing of the programme; not to transmit the programme until the family court proceedings had been completed; and not to feature Sufiah, which would have been impractical or implausible given the entire focus of the story.

At the hearing, Mr Yusof’s representative said that Mr Yusof had believed that Mr Bashir had given him an assurance that he would be able to view the programme before transmission. He said that Mr Yusof had been cautious and wanted to be sure of the content as he had been misrepresented by the media in the past.

Mr Yusof also said that Granada had been under a legal obligation not to broadcast the programme before the family court proceedings had been concluded and that he had been assured by the programme-makers that this would not occur.

Also at the hearing, Granada said that at the time of the initial meeting with Mr Yusof, Mr Bashir had been happy to offer him an opportunity to see the programme before broadcast.

However, due to the manner in which the interview concluded, the production team believed that there might be difficulties in letting him see the programme. Granada said that it was not their usual policy to allow contributors to preview programmes and that, in the light of Mr Yusof’s attempt to seek an injunction to prevent the programme from being broadcast, it became impossible for them to allow the preview.

Granada said that Mr Yusof had seen the programme before broadcast in any event as it had been shown to the court during the injunction proceedings. Granada also said at the hearing that no assurance had been given that the programme would not be broadcast until after the conclusion of the family court proceedings and, anyway, the court had ruled that there was no reason for the programme not to be broadcast.

c) Unbalanced presentation

Mr Yusof said that the programme had been edited to give greater weight to his daughter’s side of the story than to his family’s and was therefore unbalanced. Granada said that both Mr Yusof and his daughter had been given every opportunity to express their views and responses. The programme had been edited with great care to ensure fair treatment and to maintain a proper balance between the two protagonists in each element of the story.

Granada said that far from giving undue weight to Sufiah’s position, the programme- makers had elected to exclude from the programme a number of statements she made in the recorded interview making serious allegations against her father. They said that this had been done principally and precisely in the interests of fairness and “weight”.

At the hearing, Mr Yusof’s representative said that the introduction and the overlaid commentary by Mr Bashir had been weighted in favour of Sufiah’s side of the story. For example, the programme had made out that conditions in which Sufiah had been taught at home had been stark and that this had been part of Mr Yusof’s educational regime when this had not been the case.

At the hearing, Granada said that nothing had been included in the programme that had not been corroborated by official bodies involved in the case and from Sufiah herself.

3. Material Considered by the Commission The Commission had before it a complaint from Mr Yusof with written submissions, and written submissions in response from Granada. It viewed a recording of the programme as broadcast and untransmitted footage from the interview with Mr Yusof and read transcripts of both. The Commission also listened to a recording of discussions between Mr Bashir and Mr Yusof at a meeting on 31 January 2001. The Commission also held a hearing attended by Mr Yusof, his representatives and representatives of Granada.

4. The Commission’s Findings The Commission considers that the programme-makers’ explanation that the purpose of the programme was not known from the earliest of stages was unconvincing. It was evident from the recording of the discussions between Mr Bashir and Mr Yusof on 31 January 2001 that Mr Bashir misled Mr Yusof into believing that he was investigating the involvement of the authorities in the disappearance of his daughter. It takes the view that the programme-makers had lulled Mr Yusof into a contrary belief for their own purposes and had not given him a clear indication as to the nature and purpose of the programme.

The Commission therefore finds unfairness to Mr Yusof in this respect. The Commission notes that, before the programme was broadcast, Mr Yusof had sought, through the High Court, to prevent the programme being transmitted and that he had seen the programme at this time as it had been viewed during the same court proceedings. It also notes that the relationship between Mr Yusof and the programme-makers had deteriorated after the interview and that Mr Yusof did not pursue with a preview of the programme before transmission.

The Commission accepts that Mr Bashir had told Mr Yusof that he was happy for him to see the programme before broadcast, but considers that this had been a reflection of Mr Bashir’s sentiment rather than a firm offer of a preview. It also considers that the offer of a preview may well have contributed to Mr Yusof agreeing to participate in the programme.

However, it does not take the view that it had been purposefully misleading at the stage it was offered. In these circumstances, the Commission finds no unfairness to Mr Yusof.

The Commission notes Mr Yusof’s allegations that the programme-makers had assured him that Sufiah would not be involved in the programme and that the programme would not be shown until the conclusion of the family court proceedings. It also notes Granada’s submission that no such assurances were given. Mr Yusof did not provide the Commission with further evidence to corroborate his assertions and, therefore, there was no conclusive evidence before the Commission that Mr Yusof was given those assurances. In the circumstances, the Commission finds no unfairness in these respects.

The Commission recognises the confrontational nature of the relationship between Mr Yusof and his daughter and considers that it was unlikely that such a programme would have been able to present the story in a manner that satisfied both Mr Yusof and Sufiah.

The Commission takes the view that it was legitimate for the progamme-makers to have presented both points of view. It considers that a proper balance was maintained and that the programme was not weighted unfairly in favour of Sufiah. It therefore finds no unfairness to Mr Yusof in this regard. Accordingly, the complaint is upheld in part. 31 March 2003 Mr Geoff Elliott Ms Sally O’Sullivan The Reverend Rose Hudson-Wilkin

Source (*Wayback Machine Web Archive): http://web.archive.org/web/20030430061355/http://www.bsc.org.uk/pdfs/fairadj/yusof.htm

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