Updated: Lord McAlpine & BBC Settle over Child Sex Abuse Report

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(Credit: BBC , screenshot)

As iMediaEthics wrote this past weekend, BBC director general George Entwistle resigned Nov. 10 after a high-profile apology for inaccurately suggesting Lord McAlpine had sexually abused a man named Steve Messham and for the high-profile expose that the BBC hadn’t covered allegations against its host Jimmy Savile.

While the BBC apologized to McAlpine, he had indicated he planned to sue, even though he wasn’t named in the report.  The Press Gazette noted that UK “libel law says you don’t have to be named to be identified” and that soccer player Ashley Cole sued the now-closed News of the World for “jigsaw identfication” libel.  McAlpine’s previous statement on the matter said in part:

“Even though these allegations made of me by implication in the broadcast and print media, and made directly about me on the internet, are wholly false and seriously defamatory I can no longer expect the broadcast and print media to maintain their policy of defaming me only by innuendo.”

Pelham Bell Pottinger’s Chief Executive James Henderson told iMediaEthics by email Nov. 13 that “Lord McAlpine is still planning to take legal actions against those publications who defamed him.”  Pelham Bell Pottinger is listed as representing Lord McAlpine.  Henderson said there isn’t a set timeline for any lawsuits “at this stage.”

Bloomberg later reported Nov. 15 that the BBC is paying McAlpine “185,000 pounds ($293,000) plus costs” over its reporting. A BBC statement cited by Bloomberg notes the payment is “to settle his claim of libel” and is “comprehensive and reflects the gravity of the allegations that were wrongly made.” According to Bloomberg, McAlpine added that he’d sue anyone who tweeted he was the person in question in the BBC’s report “unless they apologize.”

And, Bureau of Investigative Journalism editor Iain Overton resigned, the Guardian reported. The New York Times noted that the UK Bureau of Investigative Journalism “worked with” the BBC on its Nov. 2 Newsnight program that was suggested it was about Lord McAlpine.  The bureau issued a Nov. 10 “statement from Trustees” about the program, for which it noted it was “named as a contributor.”  The statement reads in part:

“The Trustees are appalled at what appears to be a breach of its standards.  To the extent that the principles of The Bureau have been ignored by an involvement in this story, remedial action will be taken against those responsible.  The Trustees must ensure that due process is applied and are establishing the key facts.”

And two BBC employees “stepped aside” after Entwistle’s resignation, the New York Times reported.   Director of news Helen Boaden and deputy Stephen Mitchell have left their jobs “temporarily,” according to the Times, during the investigations into why BBC News decided last year against reporting on claims against Savile.

Mark Thompson

Former BBC director general Mark Thompson also had his first day as the New York Times Company’s president and chief executive this week, the Times noted.   According to the Washington Post, Thompson “joined [the BBC] as a production trainee in 1979.”

Times public editor Margaret Sullivan weighed in again on Thompson’s new job, the BBC scandals and its effect on the Times.  She wrote:

“Although Mr. Thompson’s role is on the business side of The Times, his tenure here cannot help but have a profound, if indirect, effect on its journalism.

“My conclusion is that The Times has pulled no punches in reporting on Mr. Thompson’s role and on the wider BBC story. And that’s not always easy.”

In an earlier blogpost, Sullivan noted that “Mr. Thompson has been quoted repeatedly saying he knew nothing about the investigation being conducted by the ‘Newsnight’ program, or at least that he was never formally notified about it.”

In an October report, Thompson is quoted by the Times as saying:

“There is nothing to suggest that I acted inappropriately in the handling of this matter. I did not impede or stop the ‘Newsnight’ investigation, nor have I done anything else that could be construed as untoward or unreasonable.”

UPDATE: 11/15/2012 8:49 PM EST: Added information about McAlpine’s settlement with the BBC in story and headline

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Updated: Lord McAlpine & BBC Settle over Child Sex Abuse Report

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