Tony Hall, the BBC director general, says he has investigated the BBC’s conduct in the reporting of the searching of Cliff Richard’s home in connection with an alleged sexual offence.
Sir Michael Parkinson and Geoffrey Robertson (the latter not known for affinities with the Liberal-Left) are both deeply experienced in the practise and ethics of journalism. Both say the decision by the Corporation to treat the search as a major news event complete with helicopter aerial shots was at best seriously over the top and at worst could be seen as a witch-hunt against the star.
Also seriously concerned are the Commons Home Affairs select committee who have ordered Lord Hall and the Chief Constable of South Yorkshire (who directed the search) to appear before it to explain their behaviour.
Before that, however, Lord Hall Lord Hall has written to Keith Vaz, the chairman of the select committee, stating, in effect, that there is nothing to investigate. He declares:
“I believe that BBC journalists have acted appropriately in pursuing this story. As you rightly say, the media has a right to report on matters of public interest.
“Sir Cliff Richard is one of the most successful British entertainers of all time and has been a prominent public figure for several decades. Investigations into historic sex abuse cases have – and will continue to have – a profound impact on the lives of well-known individuals and the standing of public institutions.
“The disclosure of a sex abuse allegation against Sir Cliff Richard and the police search of his property was clearly a significant story and the BBC was not alone in providing extensive coverage.
“The protection of sources is a key principle for all journalism – from broadcasters to newspapers – and for that reason the BBC will not be providing details about the source. This makes it difficult to answer some of your questions specifically; however, following speculation about this story, we did confirm that South Yorkshire Police were not our original source regarding the investigation into Sir Cliff Richard.”
So, in the BBC’s book – in other words – that’s alright then. Move along there, nothing to see. We decide how we act, what’s in the public interest and that’s that. Not only that, there won’t be any further explanation because we don’t believe it is necessary.
This would be marginally more acceptable if the BBC was properly accountable and subject to genuinely independent control and sanction by a body that took its responsibilities seriously. The reality is that the only check on BBC journalism is through the BBC Trustees – and, as has been repeatedly shown on this site, they defend the conduct of the BBC rather than act as a watchdog.
The Hall response is par for the course. In effect, he is hiding behind the mock shield of the integrity of BBC journalism to justify what experts clearly believe amounted to a massive breach of ethics and conduct.