Joe Utichi contributes to Deadline’s UK coverage
The ongoing crisis in the British media has drawn in a new player. As the BBC continues to sift through the scandals in its news division, rival broadcaster ITV is facing scrutiny from regulator Ofcom over one of its own news programs. ITV’s Today-style This Morning show will have to answer whether a recent interview with Prime Minister David Cameron breached the broadcasting code by failing to provide a “right of reply” to former Margaret Thatcher adviser Lord McAlpine when he was incorrectly linked to child sex abuse allegations, The Guardian reports. Host Phillip Schofield was forced to apologize after he confronted Cameron with a list of alleged perpetrators he had gleaned in “about three minutes” on the Internet, and the list was briefly made visible to the cameras.
The BBC was already scrambling over its botched November 2 Newsnight program which included false allegations of child sex abuse against McAlpine. Although McAlpine wasn’t explicitly identified by either ITV or the BBC, his name became a trending topic on Twitter after the Newsnight segment. Newsnight issued an “unreserved” apology for airing the show and McAlpine’s lawyer said his client expects to reach a settlement with the BBC, which, according to The Independent, will be “tempered” in light of awareness the cash will come from public funding.
The dubious broadcasts came amid the ongoing probe into the BBC’s handling of a Newsnight investigation into late TV host Jimmy Savile, who is alleged to have molested scores of minors during his time at the broadcaster. Combined, those events led to the resignation of BBC director general George Entwistle last weekend.
ITV has apologized for its role in the This Morning broadcast, and claims that Schofield and three production staff are facing “appropriate disciplinary action.” But unlike at the BBC, where Entwistle fell on his sword and other senior staff face suspension, no heads have yet rolled at ITV. “We have taken steps to make sure our editorial processes are always properly followed, which was not the case in this instance, and to ensure such an error will not be made again,” it said in a statement.
Highlighting the increased scrutiny being placed on the British media, MP John Whittingdale, who chairs the parliamentary committee that tore into Entwistle last month, wrote to ITV’s director of television to question the editorial decision-making that led to Cameron being confronted with Schofield’s list. “I would be grateful if you could say whether or not it is the view of ITV that this represented responsible journalism in the public interest,” he wrote. “I would also like to know at what level the decision was taken, what legal advice was sought, and what subsequent consideration has been given to the appropriateness of this broadcast.”
As Deadline reported last week, the ongoing Savile scandal and this latest round of allegations have provided fertile ground for Britain’s newspaper industry. BBC Trust chairman Lord Patten was especially critical of coverage in the Murdoch-owned press, which itself has been the subject of vast scrutiny because of the phone-hacking scandal. And all of this comes as the media industry as a whole is on tenterhooks ahead of the imminent publication of Lord Justice Brian Leveson’s findings from his 10-month inquiry into UK media ethics — an inquiry that stemmed from the implosion of Murdoch’s News Of The World over alleged phone hacking.