Published on 19 Dec 2012

The McAlpine error and dwindling trust in the BBC

The report of the Editorial Standards Committee for the BBC Trust has found that failures in checking a story about child abuse at a former children’s home in  Wales severely diminishes trust in the BBC.

The report follows the broadcast on Newsnight of a report alleging that two victims had been abused by “a leading Conservative politician from the Thatcher years”.  The politician was not identified but following tweets and online news reports the alleged perpetrator was said to be Lord McAlpine.

Channel 4 News approached Lord McAlpine, who strongly denied the allegations and said he would sue the BBC.  but the Newsnight team working with the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, did not put the allegations to Lord McAlpine.

Nor did they show a photo of Lord McAlpine to the alleged victim. Subsequently, the BBC’s Director-General George Entwistle resigned and the BBC had to apologise to Lord McAlpine and settled a libel claim.

The summary of the MacQuarrie report commissioned in the immediate aftermath of the furore in November found: the Newsnight management structure was weakened after the editor stood aside following the Jimmy Savile row and the departure of one of the deputy editors; there was ambiguity around who took ultimate editorial responsibility; and that basic editorial checks were not made.

Channel 4 News special report: The past on trial

Now the Editorial Standards Committee says the BBC has a tradition of excellent investigative journalism and that it was right it should expose wrongdoing.

The report says: “It is therefore extremely important that strong corroborative information is available to substantiate an accusation of abuse. The consequences of an individual being wrongly identified as an abuser are extremely serious for the accused, and his or her family.

“It could lead to additional distress for the victim. It also severely diminishes trust in the BBC.”

The trust did not attach importance to the fact the report had been carried out by a freelance journalist but they said undue weight was placed on the fact the reporter, Angus Stickler, had interviewed the person making the allegations several years earlier.

The trustees found there had been a “most serious breach of the accuracy guidelines” and that the “allegations were not based on sound evidence”.

“Whilst there was no suggestion that the programme-makers had sought to mislead the public, this had been the effect.”

The trustees have now asked for a report from the BBC executive on the steps to be taken to ensure lessons have been learned.

The report said: “This has been a grave breach which has been costly to all concerned.”  They apologised to Lord McAlpine and to he public for this “serious failure of BBC journalism”.

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3 reader comments

  1. Philip Edwards says:

    Victoria,

    Serious as it is, the McAlpine affair pales into insignificance in comparison to twenty-three years of government, mainstream media, judiciary and police lies about the Hillsborough disaster. Ninety six innocent people were crushed to death and they and their city had their names smeared for years afterwards. The guilty parties were establishment cowards who cowered behind power for a quarter of a century.

    A new Inquiry and inquests have now been announced into the horrors perpetrated since 1989. These horrors are traceable to the highest offices of state, including Thatcher’s office. Available evidence already exposes a corrupt network that extends right through the British establishment root and branch.

    Yet McAlpine takes precedence……….Coincidence?

  2. Philip says:

    While I would be the last to condone the failures of the BBC, I can’t help contrasting it with News International’s response to phone hacking. There are plently of vultures ready to pick on the carcase of the BBC, News International at their head – but we should remember just what kind of vultures they are!

  3. Robert Taggart says:

    Dwindling trust in ‘Auntie Beeb’ ? – never had so much to begin with !
    ‘Auntie’ has always been a ‘Pinko’ (a pale shade of red – soft left) – particularly in the newsroom and political shows.

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