A Fox News programme which aired comments claiming that Birmingham was a Muslim-only city and Paris had no-go zones operating under Sharia Law has been found to have been "materially misleading" and so harmful it could erode viewers "trust in current affairs".
Ofcom investigated a 'Justice with Jeanine Pirro' episode on January 11, just days after the Charlie Hebdo massacre that left 11 dead, which featured live interviews with Nolan Peterson, a former US air force officer described as "an expert in the radicalisation of French Muslims", and Steve Emerson, founder of the Investigative Project on Terrorism.
In a decision released on Monday Ofcom said it investigated because "factual programmes or items or portrayal of factual matters must not materially mislead the audience”.
Ofcom added: "We were particularly concerned about the context in which these statements were made – at a time of heightened sensitivity in the wake of the Hebdo Attack and subsequent incidents which had taken place only around a week before the broadcast of the Programme."
During the show Peterson said there were areas of Paris that were "no-go zones" which French authorities had "abandoned" and where police and the ambulance service no longer went.
Emerson was then interviewed and said: "There are not just ‘no-go zones’ there are actually cities like Birmingham that are totally Muslim, where non-Muslims just simply don’t go in.
"[In] [p]arts of London there are actually Muslim religious police that actually beat and actually wound seriously anyone who doesn’t dress according to Muslim religious attire. So there’s a situation that Western Europe is not dealing with. And in this country we have the selective orientation to what is radical Islam."
A week later, Ofcom noted that Pirro apologised on air saying that Emerson had made a "serious factual error that we wrongly let stand unchallenged and uncorrected". She went on to say: "We deeply regret these errors and apologise to the people of Birmingham, our viewers, and all that have been offended."
On another show on the same day, January 18, presenter Julie Banderas also apologised over the "no-go zone" comments, saying: "There is no formal designation of these zones in either country (France or England) and no credible information to support the assertion there are specific areas in these countries that exclude individuals based solely on their religion."
Fox defended Peterson by saying that by "providing context and caveats, Peterson fails to be materially misleading".
However, it offered no defence of Emerson's comments. Fox told Ofcom that having learnt his comments were inaccurate, it apologised and corrected the statements with "relevant statistics and information". It said after researching the statements it found "both guests misspoke", and that some of the details described by the two "are simply untrue".
Fox News further stated that because the interviews were live, “guest overstatements, generalisations and regrettably, misstatements can occur”.
In its decision Ofcom noted that the topic of no go zones was introduced by the programme, rather than the guests, and that Pirro "encouraged the discussion of no go zones that led to further misstatements about Paris and Birmingham".
Ofcom found that the statements had the "potential to cause considerable offence to viewers, particularly viewers in these cities and Muslim viewers, and especially viewers who were part of Muslim communities in these cities".
The statements it found also had the potential to "cause harm to viewers by eroding their trust in current affairs programmes."
Ofcom said Fox News should have acted sooner to correct the statement and apologise. It said: "Critically, our concerns stemmed from the fact that the statements were made in a current affairs programme which dealt with a controversial subject matter at an extremely sensitive time following the Hebdo Attack and subsequent incidents.
"For these reasons, we did not consider that the apologies and corrections sufficiently mitigated the materially misleading statements and the potential harm and offence caused to viewers of the Programme."
Despite Fox News originating in the US, it is broadcast on a digital satellite platform and licensed by Ofcom in the UK.