Is the BBC mad to show these pictures?

By Caitlin Pike and Dominic Ponsford

Sky News chief Nick Pollard has said broadcasters “are mad” to risk
being in contempt of court by ignoring police requests not to use
pictures of the men charged with the attempted bombings in London.

His views are in stark contrast with the BBC’s defiance of a police
call not to show the CCTV images of the suspects, which were used
around the world before their arrest and court appearance this week
charged with conspiracy to murder.

Sky News, along with ITV News,
Channel 4 News and other news organisations, agreed to the police plea,
issued to the media on Sunday evening, not to use pictures of Muktar
Said Ibrahim, 27, Ramzi Mohammed, 23, and Yassin Hassan Omar, 24, three
of the four suspects in the attempted bombings.

The police warned the media that “the men’s identity could be an issue in the investigation and ongoing proceedings.”

Pollard
said: “I took the view, as I would in any court case, that pictures of
alleged perpetrators of the attempted bombings on the scene of the
crime could be prejudicial.

We have a good dialogue with the police – broadcasters are mad to ignore police requests, particularly operational ones.”

But the BBC decided to continue showing pictures that had already been broadcast.

A
BBC spokesman defended its use of the pictures. “The CCTV pictures of
the men charged in connection with the two underground trains at Oval
and Warren Street, and the bus in Hackney have already been heavily
circulated in all the media over the past few weeks and so we are
continuing to use them. We have agreed not to use any new stills of
these suspects. We have not used any stills of the fourth man charged
with conspiracy to murder in connection with the device found at Little
Wormwood Scrubs.”

Pollard added that a good example of
cooperation between the police and the media during the investigation
into the London bombings was the request for a news blackout when the
arrests of suspects were made in west London on 29 July. “If you had
ignored it and a member of the police or public were killed you
wouldn’t be able to live with yourself,” he said. “We don’t agree to
all police requests but we do consider each one very seriously.”

He said the media needed more guidelines on contempt of court, particularly in the age of 24-hour news.

“Contempt
of court is a complicated issue but the law is the law. Under the
strict letter of the law all media is guilty of contempt at some point,
assuming there is reasonable leeway.

At some stage more guidelines will have to be issued from the Attorney General.”

A
Metropolitan Police spokesman said: “The police do not have the power
to prevent the media from showing the pictures; however, the Attorney
General or the court could issue a ban on publishing pictures. The risk increases the closer it gets to the trial.”

Society
of Editors executive director Bob Satchwell met with the Attorney
General last year to discuss concern about the contempt of court laws
following the Soham murder trial.

He told Press Gazette they
needed to be reformed: “The idea that a juror in 12 to 18 months’ time
will be influenced by what’s reported is highly questionable.
Additionally, we live in the age of the internet and satellite TV.

“People
can watch channels from other countries and read material on the
internet from abroad – and they will be producing all sorts of material
about these alleged bombers.

“Are we saying material can only
prejudice a trial if it appears in the mainstream British media?
Someone has got to take a long hard look at contempt.”

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