The British Broadcasting Corp. settled with a U.K. politician for 185,000 pounds ($293,000) plus costs after he was wrongly linked to child sex-abuse allegations in a news report.
Alistair McAlpine, a former Tory party treasurer, agreed to the settlement, according to an e-mailed statement from the BBC.
“The BBC has agreed to terms with Lord McAlpine to settle his claim of libel against the Corporation,” the company said in the statement. “The settlement is comprehensive and reflects the gravity of the allegations that were wrongly made.”
McAlpine said he would also be filing lawsuits against people who identified him on Twitter Inc. unless they apologize, he said on the “World at One” radio program today.
A BBC “Newsnight” program earlier this month that aired false claims about a politician by an abuse victim caused more legal issues for the license-fee-funded broadcaster as top news executives have stepped aside and Director General George Entwistle resigned. “Newsnight” looked into abuse at child- care homes in Wales in the 1970s and 1980s, resulting in McAlpine being identified online as the alleged abuser.
“What we’re basically saying to people is, look, we know - - in inverted commas -- who you are, we know exactly the extent of what you’ve done,” Andrew Reid, McAlpine’s lawyer, said. “And it’s easier to come forward and see us and apologize and arrange to settle with us because, in the long run, this is the cheapest and best way to bring this matter to an end.”
“This is the legacy that sadly the BBC has left me with,” McAlpine said. “I’m 70 years old,” he said, adding that he has heart problems.
U.K. media regulator Ofcom said it would start an investigation into “Newsnight” and commercial broadcaster ITV Plc (ITV)’s “This Morning” program to examine violations of privacy and unfair treatment.
“This Morning” was criticized after host Phillip Schofield passed a list of accused pedophiles, which was briefly visible on camera, to Prime Minister David Cameron on the show last week. Schofield and the program’s staff have been disciplined, the channel’s U.K. editor said today.
“It’s all very well Phillip Schofield being the fall guy for this decision, but one assumes that there must have been some kind of legal advice that this was appropriate and it must have been approved at a higher level,” John Whittingdale, the Conservative lawmaker who chairs Parliament’s media-oversight committee, told “The World at One.”
The head of the BBC’s supervisory body has called for a “radical overhaul” of the 90-year-old media organization that runs the U.K.’s most-watched TV channels.
The broadcaster is conducting two investigations, one into the McAlpine “Newsnight” program and another addressing why a “Newsnight” report investigating sex-abuse claims against entertainer Jimmy Savile was canceled last year. The inquiries also will look into the role of executives such as Mark Thompson, Entwistle’s predecessor.
Police arrested an unidentified man in his 60s today in connection with their investigation around Savile. The Daily Telegraph and other newspapers identified the man as a former BBC radio and television presenter, Dave Lee Travis.
To date, 450 victims come forward and 200 allegations of sexual assault have been made, the Metropolitan Police Service said.
One abuse victim on the “Newsnight” program, Steve Messham, has apologized to McAlpine, Tory treasurer during Margaret Thatcher’s leadership, saying he didn’t assault him. McAlpine criticized the editorial standards of “Newsnight.”
BBC Scotland Director Ken MacQuarrie, who was asked by the broadcaster’s Executive Board to investigate the circumstances around the Nov. 2 “Newsnight” story, said “basic journalistic checks were not completed.”
“Of course they should have called me and I would have told them exactly what they learned later on -- that it was complete rubbish,” McAlpine told “The World at One.” “They could have saved themselves a lot of agonizing and money, actually, if they’d just made that telephone call.”
Sally Bercow, the wife of the speaker of the House of Commons, was among the social-media users who linked McAlpine to the BBC report.
“Why is Lord McAlpine trending? *Innocent face*” -- a reference to the fact his name was being repeatedly mentioned on Twitter, she said in a Nov. 4 Twitter post. She has since apologized.
Sky News television reported that Bercow would be the first to receive a legal letter from McAlpine’s representatives. Calls and an e-mail to McAlpine’s lawyer weren’t immediately returned. Bercow reacted to the report by taking to Twitter again.
“I guess I’d better get some legal advice then,” she said in a posting. “Still maintain was not a libelous tweet -- just foolish.”
To contact the reporters on this story: Kitty Donaldson in London at firstname.lastname@example.org; Kristen Schweizer in London at email@example.com
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