ITV’s Good Morning Britain apologized after one of its hosts wrongly claimed a new Scottish National Party report said the party needed to “impose austerity measures in the event of Scottish independence” came too late.
The apology was broadcast nearly a month after ITV repeatedly erred in describing the Scottish report.
The June 8 ITV segment included an interview with the Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon about the report. Host Ben Shephard said on air that Sturgeon was anti-austerity and asked how that squared with the new report from her party saying if Scotland left the UK, it would need “to impose austerity policies and … years of tight public spending.” Shephard said it “sounds like huge hypocrisy.” OfCom, the broadcast regulator, received a complaint about the error.
Sturgeon immediately countered that Shephard wasn’t accurately describing the report, saying he “would have a point” if it were true and a quote from the report. In response, Shephard doubled down on his earlier characterization, insisting, “I’ve quoted from it.” Sturgeon reiterated that “the report doesn’t say what you’ve just said. The report explicitly rejects austerity.” iMediaEthics has written to ITV and the Scottish National Party for its response to the ruling.
Then another host, Kate Garraway, pushed back on Sturgeon indicating the report was wrong, when in fact, ITV misquoted the report. The transcript continues, according to OfCom:
Kate Garraway: [Interrupting] “So just to be clear, there wouldn’t be austerity in an independent Scotland. The independent experts who say there would need to be are just wrong, are they?”
Nicola Sturgeon: “The report doesn’t say what you said. The report explicitly says…”
Kate Garraway: [Interrupting] “But answer my question [Ofcom emphasis]. Just so we can clear it up. There would be no austerity post-Scottish independence and those people that say it would be are wrong”.
After Sturgeon’s response, the hosts changed the topic.
ITV told OfCom that Shephard’s notes, which gave him the inaccurate information, were “insufficiently clearly written” by the editorial team and came from a critical summary of the report — not the actual report. But ITV defended its error as “entirely unintentional and made in the heat of a live broadcast interview,” and argued it was OK because Sturgeon could “emphatically and repeatedly rebut” the claim. That said, ITV did air an apology a month later, on July 6, that stated:
“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.”
Shephard’s comments, however, were flatly inaccurate, OfCom found. Sturgeon’s ability to rebut the claim mitigated their damage, however, given that her “correction was either dismissed or ignored by the presenters,” and the hosts doubled down on their initial characterizations, the overall error broke OfCom guidelines. “The inaccuracy in this case had a significant impact on the remainder of the interview,” OfCom ruled. “This was because viewers would have not known whether Mr. Shepherd 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.”
Because the apology, which was prompted by OfCom’s investigation, was broadcast four weeks after the original error, OfCom also ruled that ITV broke guidelines for prompt correction.