28 November 2012

"...a prominent Tory politician..."

Alistair McAlpine has received damages from both ITV and the BBC after he was linked to a rumoured paedophile network. McAlpine was paid £185,000 by the BBC and £125,000 by ITV in libel damages. The BBC's director general has resigned as a result of the controversy.

On 2nd November, BBC2's Newsnight broadcast a report featuring an interview with Steven Messham, who claimed to have been sexually abused as a child. The report did not name McApline as Messham's abuser, though it did refer to "a prominent Tory politician at the time".

On ITV1's This Morning on 8th November, presenter Phillip Schofield claimed to have found a list of alleged paedophiles online, and handed Prime Minister David Cameron "the names on a piece of paper". The list, which included McAlpine's name, was visible for a split second while Schofield was holding it.

Newsnight broadcast an apology on 9th November: "Mr Messham has tonight made a statement that makes clear he wrongly identified his abuser and has apologised. We also apologise unreservedly for having broadcast this report." This Morning broadcast an apology on the same day: "It's extremely regrettable that names may have been very briefly visible as a result of a misjudged camera angle".

BBC director general George Entwistle was interviewed by John Humphrys on BBC Radio 4's Today programme on 10th November. In the extraordinary interview, Entwistle said that the Newsnight report was not brought to his attention until the day after it was broadcast, and he had not read news about it on Twitter or in the press.

An incredulous Humphrys replied: "You've no natural curiosity? You wait for someone to come along to you and say, 'Excuse me, Mr Director General, but this is happening and you may be interested', you don't look for yourself, you don't do what everybody else in the country does: read newspapers, listen to everything that's going on". Entwistle resigned later that day.