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Monday, December 7, 1998

London, December 5, 1998

Award-winning TV team criticised over faked scenes

By Tom Leonard, Media Correspondent

AN award-winning Central Television documentary about heroin smuggling was largely faked and so seriously flawed that it should not have been broadcast, the company's own investigation ruled yesterday.

An independent inquiry set up by Carlton Central's owner, took six months to uphold complaints that crucial elements of The Connection were staged or untrue.

While the inquiry criticised Carlton executives for failing to question the programme's credibility with sufficient vigour, it concluded that they had not set out to mislead viewers.

The investigation was overseen by a panel comprising Michael Beloff, QC, John Wilson, a former senior BBC executive, and Nigel Walmsley, Carlton's director for broadcasting.

The 46-page report has been passed to the Independent Television Commission, which will decide what action to take against Central. Possible sanctions range from a warning or onscreen apology to a shortening or even termination of its broadcasting licence -- although the latter is unlikely.

The documentary, which was shown in October 1996, won eight international awards for its supposedly courageous investigation into how the drug was being smuggled from Colombia to Britain by a new route unknown to the authorities.

The highlight of the documentary was film of a drugs "'mule" swallowing heroin capsules and smuggling them into London hidden in his stomach.

However, a number of serious allegations were subsequently made that suggested that much of the film had been a sham. They included the fact that the capsules had been mints; that the mule's journey from Colombia had been filmed in stages, and that he was stopped at Heathrow and sent back to Colombia.

It was also claimed that the mule, another supposed drug trafficker and a man purporting to be a senior member of a Colombian drug cartel had been paid to play parts. A Colombian police raid on the house of a suspected Cartel boss was also said to have been staged.

All the main allegations were justified, the inquiry said. It also criticised senior Carlton executives for failing to read a statement from a researcher working on the programme acknowledging that some of it had been faked.

Marc de Beaufort, the film's producer, should have known what was happening, the report said. "It was his programme, made to his design. If he did not know, he was seriously at fault because he ought to have known."

An ITC spokesman said there was evidence that the documentary had "in important respects" breached its programme code. The matter will be discussed at its next meeting on Dec 17.

POST SCRIPT: On Friday, December 18, 1998 the U.K. Independent Television Commission fined Carlton TV two million pounds ($3.2m) for perpetrating this fraud.
Our opinion
We cannot claim to be deeply shocked by this. Martin Bell, the eminent BBC tv newscaster, now an Independent member of Parliament, recently angrily revealed that newsreel teams commonly salt fake scenes into their shots. (Tip: If a bomb is filmed exploding in centre-screen, with the camera on a tripod, the shot has been specially staged). [AR]

Bell was present at the Halle, East Germany, street-rally in November 1990 where hired "Nazis" were filmed by European and US TV newsreel companies shouting Sieg-heil at the speaker (David Irving) and giving the Hitler salute...

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