Tory farmer who featured in SNP party broadcast wins OFCOM complaint

BBC Scotland has been rapped by broadcasting watchdogs after it screened an SNP party political broadcast in which a Tory supporting farmer appeared without his knowledge.
John Shedden in the SNP broadcast. Picture: SNPJohn Shedden in the SNP broadcast. Picture: SNP
John Shedden in the SNP broadcast. Picture: SNP

John Shedden said he agreed to take part in a ‘government public information film’ but was left furious after the footage promoted the Nationalists.Mr Shedden, who farms at East Garleton Farm near Haddington, East Lothian, complained as he claimed he was duped into appearing in the SNP broadcast aired by BBC Scotland on October 12 last year.

Regulator Ofcom has now upheld a ‘fairness and privacy’ complaint about the film, which some interpreted as support for the SNP’s call for a second independence referendum.

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Filming took place at the farm on September 23 last year, and it was nearly three weeks before Mr Shedden discovered what he had taken part in. The video was eventually removed from BBC iPlayer, and is no longer on the SNP’s official YouTube channel.

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One clip cuts from a scene talking of ‘believers’ in independence to Mr Shedden sitting having coffee in bales of hay.

At the time, the 55-year-old said: “I am furious. I am not a supporter of the SNP.’” The company that produced it, Greenroom Films, apologised for including Mr Shedden without his knowledge.

In a written ruling, Ofcom said: “The broadcaster did not dispute that Mr Shedden had not been informed about the nature and purpose of the programme and that it had not obtained his informed consent.

“We therefore went on to consider whether, by footage of Mr Shedden being included in the broadcast without his consent, he was portrayed in a manner that resulted in unfairness to him.

“Mr Shedden and his farm were shown in a Party Political Broadcast for the SNP. We considered that, consequently, viewers may have reasonably understood that Mr Shedden was a supporter of the SNP, or at least, that he was prepared to be associated with the party.

“Mr Shedden said that he did not support the SNP, and that he would not have contributed to the programme had it been made clear to him from the outset that the footage would be used in the party’s political broadcast.

“Therefore, it was our view that the inclusion of this footage in the SNP’s political broadcast, may have resulted in Mr Shedden and his political views, being unfairly represented.

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“We considered that the inclusion of the footage of Mr Shedden in a Party Political Broadcast, for a party which he did not support, without his informed consent, resulted in material facts (i.e. his political views) being presented in the broadcast in a manner that resulted in unfairness to him.”

Greenroom said that while others had signed a release form to take part in the film, Mr Shedden had not and should not have been included. The company accepted responsibility for the blunder and said the BBC and the SNP had acted in “good faith”.

After lodging his complaint, Mr Shedden, who was given a fee of £550 for allowing his land to be filmed, said: “My complaint was that this was to be non-political.

“We had a letter saying that it was definitely non-party political and it was just a snapshot of life in Scotland.

“It was a public information film. I don’t want to get into politics, but I am not an SNP supporter.

“It was a friend who phoned me up [about the broadcast] and said they see I am an SNP supporter, and I was a bit shocked. And when I saw it was a party political broadcast I wasn’t very happy. A party political broadcast is not non-party political.”

A re-edited version of the film with Mr Shedden removed from it was used in further broadcasts.

The SNP said there were unaware of the issue until after the broadcast and said it had been caused by an “error” by the film production company.

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The BBC told Ofcom that “the content of party political and party election broadcasts is primarily the responsibility of the parties themselves, subject to compliance with the relevant editorial standards.”

The corporation said that it had reminded political parties of the guidelines surrounding broadcasts shortly before the film was made.