BBC Complaints: The link you need!

Sunday, 5 July 2009


Today's 'World This Weekend' was (as it has been on more than one occasion in recent weeks) a wholly Labour Party affair. After a segment on the 'Contempt of Court Act' of 1981, which was discussed by Labour former Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith, came a largely favourable potted biography of Labour's eminence grise Peter Mandelson. The voices featured were all from the Labour family: Bernard Donahue, senior advisor to Harold Wilson (and BBC regular); ex-Labour MP Stuart Holland; left-wing playwright David Hare; and the novelist Edward Docx, who has written a book called "Mandy in the middle" and refers to Mandelson as "Peter". The programme's presenter was Shaun Ley.


The segment on the 'Contempt of Court' Act smacks to me, on an initial hunch, to have been prompted by two strands of Beeboid thinking. The main concerns expressed by Peter Clarke, former top anti-terror police officer, were of the Act's effect on relations between the Police and the 'community', by which he meant (in the Finsbury Park Mosque example given) the Muslim community. The second strand is one shared (understandably) by much of the mainstream media - a wish to water down the Act, so that journalists can say as much as they like about defendants in a court case. The 'Contempt of Court' Act was introduced in 1981 as a means of safe-guarding a defendant's right to a fair trial. The aim was to protect jurors from outside influences - ie. one-sided media reporting, negative police statements etc. - and ensure that their focus was on the evidence presented in court. The issue is a complex one, and I can see the strength of the arguments for reform. I would have liked, however, to hear the opposite point of view. Shaun Ley spent the whole of the Goldsmith interview asking questions from the standpoint outlined above. It will be interesting to watch how this story develops in the coming days and see if the argument receives a more balanced treatment from the BBC. I'm not holding my breath.


Lord Goldsmith, of course, was of Shaun's mind. Ley's second question was this:

"Isn't there though, as far as a fair trial is concerned, some reason (such as?) for thinking that juries aren't effected unduly by the sorts of things they might read a few weeks or a few months before in a newspaper (or on the BBC?) or even hear a policeman saying on the television, because in other countries these rules don't exist and yet trials seem to carry on without constant complaint that defendants are being disadvantaged." (Was that a question, Shaun, or a piece of advocacy, and shouldn't you have declared an interest?)

Ley leapt into his Lordship's answer, with the enthusiasm of a child who has just been given an iced-lolly, & made this statement:

"So that's a bit of a paradox. We can't find out whether the act is needed because the act makes it a contempt of court to ask jurors this kind of information."

To which Goldsmith replied, "Well, that's absolutely right."

Don't you just love it when people get on so well!

The Interruption Coefficient was a miniscule 0.2 ( just that one interruption - and a supportive one at that! - in 4.14 minutes).


The story is dying away surprisingly quickly. Or maybe not surprisingly.

The story's only other appearance has been on the BBC News Website.

Here we learn that the Muslim 'Community' is against Mr Clarke's ideas - or, more accurately, one of those self-appointed spokemen for the 'Community', Abdurahman Jafar of the Muslim Safety Forum. (Mr Jafar's opinions get highlighted in block quotes for good measure.) If journalistic self-interest is weighed in the balance against disapproval from the loudest voices of the 'Community', then even journalistic self-interest must give way. The BBC will bow before such voices every time. Whether Mr Jafar is representative of anyone other than a small minority (or even just his own organisation) is an open question. The BBC takes it for granted that he is. I don't.

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