ITV censured over inaccuracies in interview with Nicola Sturgeon

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ITV have been rapped over an interview with First Minister Nicola Sturgeon where claims were made the SNP would have to impose austerity if Scotland became independent.

The first minister was appearing on Good Morning Britain when host Ben Shephard read out a quote which he said was from the party’s Sustainable Growth Commission report.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. Picture: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. Picture: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire

Shephard claimed the SNP had forecast they would have to impose “austerity policies” and “years of tight public spending” if it broke away from the rest of the UK.

However, he was quoting from a summary of the Commission Report made by the Institute of Fiscal Studies and not from the report itself.

Regulator Ofcom launched an investigation into the broadcast after a viewer complained and have now found that it breached broadcasting guidelines on accuracy and impartiality.

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Ms Sturgeon immediately attempted to correct the error but Ofcom found she was “dismissed or ignored” by Shephard and his co-host Kate Garraway.

ITV were forced to make an on air apology following the interview on June 8 this year.

During the interview, Shephard said to Miss Sturgeon: “This report [the Commission Report] actually says that the loss of money from Westminster, were you to get independence, that is created by the Barnett Formula would mean that the SNP would have to impose austerity policies and recommends years of tight public spending to halve Scotland’s deficit and in order to keep the pound.”

Ms Sturgeon replied: “The report doesn’t say what you’ve just said. The report explicitly rejects austerity, the report recommends that an independent Scotland should have real terms growth in spending rather than the cuts we’ve seen.”

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At one stage, Shephard waved a piece of paper at Ms Sturgeon and claimed he was reading directly from the report.

In their written ruling, Ofcom said: “Mr Shephard was referring to a summary, written by the GMB production team, of a critique of the Commission Report produced by the Institute of Financial Studies. We therefore considered the statement was clearly inaccurate.

“We recognised that Ms Sturgeon sought to correct the inaccuracy on a number of occasions during the interview. However, in each case, her correction was either dismissed or ignored by the presenters.

“For example, as described above, Mr Shephard responded to Ms Sturgeon’s initial correction by reiterating the original inaccuracy.

“Later, when Ms Sturgeon said “the report does not say what you said”, Ms Garraway interrupted and told her to ‘answer my question’.

“We considered that the inaccuracy in this case had a significant impact on the remainder of the interview. This was because viewers would have not known whether Mr Shephard or Ms Sturgeon was accurately reflecting the findings of Commission Report.

“This potentially left viewers with an erroneous impression that Ms Sturgeon was either unclear about the contents of the report or deliberately misrepresenting its findings.”

ITV said the error “was entirely unintentional and made in the heat of a live broadcast interview”.

They added Shephard was reading from briefing notes which had been prepared by the programme’s editorial team which were “insufficiently clearly written”.

The broadcaster was also found in breach of guidelines by Ofcom for failing to make the on air apology until four weeks after the interview was broadcast.

Their apology read: “On 8 June we interviewed Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, during which we suggested to her that the SNP’s Sustainable Growth Commission Report had said austerity measures would be required in the event of Scottish independence.

“In fact, the quote that we put to the First Minister was a summary of a critique of the Commission Report made by the Institute of Fiscal Studies, and not a quote from the Commission Report itself. We apologise for this error and for any confusion caused.”

An Ofcom spokesperson said: “Our investigation found that this programme broke our rules on due accuracy, because the presenter claimed incorrectly that a political strategy report contained a statement it did not.

“ITV broadcast an apology four weeks later which we considered was not soon enough after the mistake had been made.”