The BBC has been fined £28,000 for contempt of court after it broadcast footage of a judicial review without the court’s consent.
This story just goes to show that anyone can find themselves in breach of the law: even experienced BBC journalists. If you ever find yourself in need of a criminal defence solicitor, please contact us for a free initial enquiry. We are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
What did the BBC do?
Journalists from the BBC were covering a judicial review hearing taking place at the Planning Court. Arguments were being heard in relation to a controversial decision made by Surrey County Council. The Council had granted planning permission to UK Oil and Gas to carry out fracking operations at a site at Horse Hill, near Horley.
Unauthorised video and audio recording were taken off half a day’s hearing. A short clip of this video was then broadcast on BBC South East Today. This is the regional news programme for the South East of England, covering Kent, East Sussex, part of West Sussex and part of Surrey. This clip was aired in both the 18.30 and 22.30 bulletins, reaching around half a million viewers.
Why did the BBC get in trouble?
No one is allowed to make and transmit recordings of court proceedings without the court’s permission. This is because it could unfairly influence a court case, preventing a fair trial or hearing. This is what is known as ‘contempt of court’.
In broadcasting the material, the BBC had breached two laws. The first being section 41 of the Criminal Justice Act, which prohibits photographs in court. The second being section 85B of the Courts Act 2003, which prohibits the unauthorised recording and transmission of court proceedings. The latter has been particularly relevant during the coronavirus pandemic, with many court hearings now being conducted remotely through live links.
What was the penalty?
The BBC admitted wrongdoing and quickly took steps to address the problem. The footage was removed from iPlayer and a memo was circulated to all the BBC’s journalists, reminding them of the laws. The judge took these factors into consideration when deciding what penalty to impose, reducing the eventual fine on account of the BBC’s early acceptance of liability and apology.
However, the judge also wanted to avoid treating the BBC too leniently, for fear it would “send the wrong message to those with a more cavalier attitude towards restrictions on reporting, recording and broadcasting court proceedings”. The fact that the BBC is the country’s principal news provider was also considered an aggravating factor. A fine of £28,000 was therefore considered fair and appropriate.
There are lots of ways in which you could be in contempt of court. The public is rarely aware of these, and as this case goes to show, even experienced journalists can get it wrong.
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