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Ofcom dismisses Brewdog’s BBC ‘unfair treatment’ claims


Brewdog ‘s complaint about a BBC documentary that highlighted allegations of inappropriate behaviour against its chief executive has been rejected by Ofcom.

Brewdog claimed that the company and its CEO James Watt were treated unfairly by a Disclosure programme entitled The Truth about Brewdog.

It also claimed the programme had infringed Watt’s right to privacy, but the complaint has now been dismissed by the broadcasting watchdog.

In its written decision, Ofcom said that facts were not presented, disregarded or omitted by the documentary in a way that was unfair.

It said Brewdog and Watt had been given an appropriate and timely opportunity to respond to the allegations made in the programme, and that their response was fairly reflected in the broadcast.

Ofcom added that Watt’s legitimate expectation of privacy did not, on balance, outweigh the broadcaster’s right to freedom of expression and the public interest in obtaining and including the material in the programme.

Comsequently there was no unwarranted infringement of Watt’s privacy in connection with the obtaining and subsequent broadcast of material, which included allegations that he had bought £500,000 of shares in Heineken and invested £2m in a hedge fund in the Cayman Islands.

Much of Brewdog’s marketing is based on the firm’s “punk” image, which the firm says has revolutionised the world of brewing and challenged mainstream beer brands.

The documentary, which was originally broadcast on BBC1 Scotland on January 24, 2022, looked at BrewDog’s marketing strategy and commercial practices in the context of claims about its corporate culture.

It included accounts given by several former BrewDog employees who spoke about their experiences of Watt’s alleged personal misconduct and abuse of power in the workplace.

Former Brewdog USA workers said Watt’s behaviour made female bartenders feel “uncomfortable” and “powerless.”

Watt’s lawyers said the allegations were false, and he denied behaving inappropriately.

Brewdog, which was founded by Watt and his friend Martin Dickie in 2007, now has more than 100 bars and employs more than 2,000 people worldwide.

The BBC Scotland Disclosure team started investigating the company after almost 300 former and current Brewdog employees signed a letter accusing Mr Watt of presiding over a “toxic culture.”

The programme included claims Watt was witnessed by staff kissing an intoxicated customer on a roof terrace bar, that female bartenders were advised how to avoid unwelcome attention from their boss, and that managers would try to schedule certain female staff to be off to avoid Mr Watt’s visits.

One bartender said she felt “powerless” to prevent unwelcome attention from Mr Watt, who was also alleged to have left staff feeling uncomfortable by taking women on late night brewery tours while on trips to his US bars.

The investigation also found that Brewdog sent multiple shipments of beer to the US, in contravention of US federal laws – with Mr Watt subsequently admitting on social media that “some mistakes with the paperwork on the first few shipments” had been made, but that all taxes were paid in full.

He added that these “oversights” were “due to the fact we were trying to run a growing business on one side of the Atlantic and start a new business on the other”.

Watt declined to be interviewed for the Disclosure programme – which made no allegations of criminal behaviour – but his lawyer denied all of the claims that were made against him by the former employees.

Following the broadcast of the documentary and a related story on the BBC News website, Watt said the BBC had published claims which were totally false despite the extensive evidence he had provided.

He added that regretted “anyone feeling in any way uncomfortable around me, as the programme set out.”

Watt continued: “This is absolutely the last thing I want and something I will learn from immediately. I truly apologise to anyone who felt that way. This was never my intention.

“However, I would argue that people feeling uncomfortable around me based on false rumours and misinformation does not represent inappropriate behaviour on my behalf.”

Brewdog chairman Allan Leighton said he had been given assurances from Watt that the BBC’s claims were not accurate, and were based on misinformation.

A spokesperson for Brewdog said that Ofcom’s ruling concerned the BBC’s reporting processes, not what was reported.

“The regulator states itself that its role was not to determine the ‘factual accuracy’ of the programme,” said the company.

“The BBC’s documentary contains numerous inaccuracies and misrepresentations, so we disagree with Ofcom’s findings that the BBC took ‘reasonable care’.”

The BBC welcomed the Ofcom decision, saying: “Throughout the process, we have stood by the accuracy and fairness of our journalism.”

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