A fresh row erupted between the BBC and the Government this week when minister for children Margaret Hodge tried to get an item on Radio 4’s Today programme about child abuse in Islington dropped.
Hodge has accused Today reporter Angus Stickler of waging “a concerted campaign” against her in his reports on child abuse in the London borough during the Eighties, while Hodge was council leader.
She tried to pressurise the BBC into dropping the report, which she described as “deplorable sensationalism”, after she found out about Stickler’s investigations. The minister wrote a letter to BBC chairman Gavyn Davies complaining about Stickler, which the reporter said amounted to a “veiled legal threat” to the programme.
Hodge’s letter referred to the High Court writ she issued against ITN and Channel 4 News presenter Tanya Sillen in 1996, when the bulletin aired an item on child abuse in Islington. The broadcaster was forced to apologise at the time.
The letter was copied to director general Greg Dyke, director of news Richard Sambrook, Today editor Kevin Marsh and the minister’s own solicitors.
Sambrook replied to Hodge’s letter within days of receiving it, but the BBC would not be drawn on details.
In a statement to the BBC after declining to appear on Today, Hodge criticised the corporation for allowing excerpts of the letter to be read out on the programme. “I am taken aback Today has chosen to make a letter which was not for publication public.”
However, a BBC spokeswoman said Marsh informed the chairman, director of editorial policy and senior news managers before the programme ran on Tuesday. The corporation’s legal department was also informed.
With the minister also accusing Today of “scant bias in previous broadcasts”, the clash puts the BBC Radio flagship news programme back in conflict with the Government.
Demetrius Panton, a man abused in a children’s home in Islington in the Seventies and who featured in the Today report, was described in Hodge’s letter to Davies as “an extremely disturbed person”. It is understood he is considering an approach to the BBC for a copy of the letter, as ammunition with which to sue the minister.
By Wale Azeez