BBC fined £28,000 for contempt of court after broadcasting footage of Horse Hill court hearing

The BBC has been fined £28,000 for broadcasting six seconds of recorded video of the online High Court case about oil production at Horse Hill in Surrey.

The broadcaster admitted including the footage in two news bulletins by BBC South East Today on 17 November.

This is believed to be the first time the court has penalised a broadcaster for recording and then showing footage from a remote hearing, the The Law Society Gazette reported.

Recording and broadcasting proceedings from courts in England and Wales is prohibited.

The original case, brought by local campaigner Sarah Finch, was a judicial review of the decision by Surrey County Council to grant planning permission for oil production at Horse Hill.

Staff from BBC South East Today recorded the hearing, which was conducted online because of the Covid-19 outbreak.

This was in breach of a warning from the court at the start of the hearing.

The BBC apologised and admitted it was in contempt of court. A spokesperson said the BBC “apologised unreservedly for the mistakes” that led to the clip being shown and had taken steps to prevent them happening again.

In a High Court ruling on Wednesday (3/2/2021), two judges said the problem “could and probably would have been avoided” if the BBC had taken more “proactive steps” to ensure journalists were aware of the rules.

Lady Justice Andrews and Mr Justice Warby said there was “no simple or coherent explanation” for what happened.

Their ruling said:

“This was not a minor oversight by an inexperienced individual within a large organisation, but a catalogue of serious errors by a number of people that should have been, but were not, picked up by any of the internal systems and safeguards that were put in place to regulate what is broadcast.

“It beggars belief that a team of very experienced BBC journalists, all but one of whom did not need to hear the judge’s warning at the start of the proceedings because they were well aware of the prohibition on recording court hearings, should have given no thought to the propriety of getting the hub to record the morning’s proceedings that were being conducted in the Royal Courts of Justice and viewed through live links by those who were unable to be physically present.

“They knew that this was the first day of a two-day hearing by a High Court judge of proceedings for judicial review.

“None of them would have dreamed of making a video or audio recording inside the courtroom.

“It should have been obvious to them that the fact that it was possible to view the proceedings remotely made no difference.”

The judges accepted there was no “deliberately disobedience” of a court order and that the actions of staff were “closer to reckless disregard than negligent oversight”.

The BBC said it had taken immediate steps to withdraw the footage and ensure there was no repetition of the events. A memo was circulated to around 3,000 staff highlighting the issue and reminding them of the prohibition on recording court proceedings.

The broadcaster’s legal department told the court that training was being arranged to ensure that any journalist involved with court proceedings would know their obligations.

The BBC could have received a fine of between £40,000 and £45,000 for both recording and transmitting proceedings, but this was reduced by about a third because the BBC immediately accepted liability and apologised.

1 reply »

  1. Good old Beeb. Waste the licence fee money, and then waste some more training journalists in what they should already know.

    Then, there are the required maths lessons for Naga, as well! (There is the second dose of vaccines to come as well. DOH.)

    Perhaps reporting news rather than attempting to create it would be a cheaper solution? Might not help the individual’s CV so much, maybe no appearance on I’m an Idiot, Get Me Out of Here, or Strictly cum Prancing, but cheaper and more informative to those that pay the bills.

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