Newsnight and This Morning will both come under scrutiny from Ofcom as the broadcasting regulator investigates whether the BBC2 current affairs show and the ITV daytime magazine programme broke guidelines when they linked Conservative party members to child abuse without allowing them a right to reply.
In a programme on Friday 2 November, a Newsnight report incorrectly linked an unnamed but easily identifiable “senior Conservative” to allegations of child abuse. When it was revealed that the politician had been mistakenly picked out by victim Steve Messham, an apology from the programme was quickly followed by the resignation of fledgling BBC director general George Entwistle.
In a letter to Conservative MP Rob Wilson, Ofcom’s director of standards Tony Close said he would be considering whether Newnsight had failed “to provide the individual against who allegations of child abuse were made… an appropriate and timely opportunity to respond”.
This Morning will be investigated following Phillip Schofield’s decision to hand Prime Minister David Cameron, live on air, a list of politicians allegedly linked to unproven cases of child abuse, which the presenter said he had compiled following “three minutes” spent trawling the internet. Some of the names on the list were visible in a freeze frame of the broadcast.
ITV has since confirmed it has taken “appropriate disciplinary action” over the matter, but Close said Ofcom would consider whether the broadcaster had breached its code by “failing to provide an opportunity to respond to the individuals whose names were disclosed by Phillip Schofield”.
Section 7.11 of Ofcom’s broadcasting code states: “If a programme alleges wrongdoing or incompetence or makes other significant allegations, those concerned should normally be given an appropriate and timely opportunity to respond.”
If found to have breached the codes, the BBC or ITV could be liable to fines. In the past, Ofcom has imposed penalties of up to seven figures.