Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Minutes of Evidence

Supplementary memorandum submitted by the BBC


  Angela Canning was convicted of killing her three babies. As she awaited trial, she allowed a BBC documentary team to follow her life and the preparation of her defence. Although appropriately sceptical, dispassionate and impartial about her guilt or otherwise, the film was made with her and her family's full co-operation. Canning was later convicted and sent to Durham prison. When it came to transmission of the programme, to coincide with the application to appeal against conviction, Canning asked the BBC to withdraw the film as she feared its transmission would endanger her life. She claimed that none of her fellow inmates in Durham Jail knew what her conviction was for but that if they identified her and did find out via the television programme, they would attack her. The Governor of the jail let it be known, while naturally offering no editorial opinions, that although she did not have a view on the matter; she was not in a position to offer protection to Canning in a medical segregation unit.

  The prison authorities were not able to move Canning to another jail, where Sally Clarke was awaiting appeal against the same conviction in time for the transmission. Canning let it be known that she would feel less endangered in the next jail if the film went out after she had arrived there and asked us to hold off transmission until after the move had taken place.

  Canning's husband was keen for the film to be transmitted as he thought it served rather than hindered her case. The BBC was reluctant to postpone the film. However, in the light of the prison authorities' difficulty in ensuring Canning's safety, the decision was taken to postpone the film, pending the move to the other prison. As it happened Canning was moved to the other prison and was promptly attacked before the film could be aired. The BBC takes matters of personal safety extremely seriously and the prison authorities' difficulty in ensuring safety meant the BBC decided to be prudent.

  The BBC is currently making a series of programmes in which politicians are invited to live with ordinary families and do their jobs in order to get an insight into issues on which they have had a great deal to say in the past. In one programme, Michael Portillo goes to live the life of a single mother who has four children and does two jobs to make ends meet. The children's father, her ex husband, made strenuous objections and wanted to prevent filming taking place. After making inquiries, it was judged that although he was not contributing to family finances and he did not have any legal rights in relation to the children, he had sufficient interest in the childrens' welfare to make it necessary to listen carefully to his concerns. He was worried that the programme would be an invasion of his and his children's privacy that they would become the butt of bullies at school that the families' problems (and their problems with him) might be taken out of context. He had concerns about his own right to privacy even though he was not going to participate, because of what might be said about him and his past behaviour. The father threatened to go to law to prevent the programme going ahead and refused all communication with the BBC. In the end however, as a result of a calm and patient approach, the programme makers were able to draw on their considerable experience of dealing with sensitive subjects and contributors, together with by good practice set out in the Producers' Guidelines, to explain the programme properly to the father. This is an example of how explanation and good practice can allay people's worries about intrusion, privacy and harm to welfare.

  Last year the BBC put out a pioneering series, the Hunt for Britain's Paedophiles. After two years unprecedented access by a BBC team, the BBC was in a position to bring unprecedented material to the screen, to help understand the issues better and promote informed debate. The BBC decided that with appropriate safeguards it would identify the paedophiles in the series, including those who were living in the community. One of these men attempted to prevent transmission of the programme in which he appeared arguing Articles 8 and 3 of the HRA. The BBC won its application NOT to hide the identity of the man on the grounds of the public interest in open justice and on the grounds that the BBC was taking appropriate and responsible steps to prevent the public or paedophile coming to harm.

  The BBC recently opposed an injunction in a case brought before the Family Division concerning a programme about foundlings. A baby, found aged only a few days, featured in the programme up to the age of eight weeks. In the programme he was shown being cared for by Oxfordshire social services and a foster mother and being prepared for adoption. The prospective adoptive parents attempted to injunct the programme on behalf of the child, alleging that it would be harmful to the welfare of the child now and in the future, and that its privacy was invaded by being shown on television. Dame Butler Schloss who heard the case instead took the view that the welfare of the child was best served by its being in the programme as it might prompt the natural mother or anyone who knew her to come forward at the last minute. She overruled the adoptive parents' view that the child's privacy was invaded.

7 April 2003

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