Ofcom upholds Lord McAlpine complaints
- 23 October 2013
- From the section Entertainment & Arts
Broadcasting watchdog Ofcom has upheld complaints against episodes of Newsnight and This Morning which led to Lord McAlpine being wrongly implicated in child sex abuse allegations.
Newsnight broadcast allegations against an unnamed "leading Conservative politician from the Thatcher years".
Lord McAlpine was not named, but was the subject of internet speculation.
Days later the prime minister was handed a list of alleged abusers, which named the peer, on ITV's This Morning.
The investigation on BBC Two's Newsnight, broadcast on 2 November 2012, looked into allegations of sexual abuse at the Bryn Estyn children's home in Wales in the 1970s and 1980s.
On the day of the broadcast it had been widely discussed on the internet, with Lord McAlpine's name linked to it.
It later became widespread speculation he was the subject of the allegations.
Ofcom ruled broadcasting the allegations in this context had led to Lord McAlpine being incorrectly identified.
List of names
During a live broadcast of This Morning on 8 November 2012, presenter Phillip Schofield produced a list of people linked to allegations of child abuse, which he said he had put together by searching on the internet.
He handed the list - which included Lord McAlpine's name - to Prime Minister David Cameron, asking whether there should be an overarching inquiry into the recent scandal.
The list was briefly and inadvertently broadcast by ITV.
ITV accepted this was "an uncharacteristic lapse in editorial judgement on the part of the programme's editorial team".
Ofcom ruled both programmes had breached the broadcasting code and had treated Lord McAlpine unfairly, causing him distress and embarrassment.
Both the BBC and ITV subsequently apologised to Lord McAlpine and paid substantial libel damages.
At the time the Tory peer had said it was "terrifying" to find himself "a figure of public hatred".
ITV also fell foul of rules relating to providing adequate protection for members of the public from the inclusion of harmful material.
A week after the Newsnight investigation was broadcast, Lord McAlpine issued a statement denying his involvement with the claims made by Steve Messham during an interview in the report.
Later that day Mr Messham issued a statement saying "the individual concerned" was not the man who had abused him and apologised to Lord McAlpine and his family.
That evening, Newsnight broadcast an unreserved apology, accepting the original allegations should never have been made.
Ofcom criticised programme makers for not contacting Lord McAlpine prior to the broadcast, when he would have been able to inform them he had never been to the children's home in question.
Lord McAlpine also took legal action against some of those who had contributed to the internet speculation.
In May this year, the High Court ruled a tweet published by Sally Bercow two days after the Newsnight programme was libellous.
The wife of Commons Speaker John Bercow apologised to the peer and said she had accepted a settlement, but the amount of damages was not disclosed.