Journalist 'whistleblower' leaked details of Panorama confidential sources to Tower Hamlets mayor

The BBC is facing an investigation by the Information Commissioner after a journalist ‘whisteblower’ leaked documents from a Panorama probe into Tower Hamlets mayor Lutfur Rahman to the mayor himself.

According to East London-based journalist Ted Jeory the ‘whistleblower’ is a broadcast journalism student of Bengali origin who worked with the production company Films of Record for a short period in January.

She took information about the documentary from a shared hard drive and leaked it to Rahman’s office. According to the Daily Mail, it includes the names of dozens of confidential sources.

Last night’s Panorama alleges that Rahman (pictured above) has favoured Bengali charities for grant allocations, increasing spending on them from £1.5m to £3.6m. Local government secretary Eric Pickles has said he may investigate Tower Hamlets Council.

Yesterday the researcher, who has not been named, briefed journalists. She told The Guardian: "The approaches they took were just unethical," she said. "There was manipulation, there was racism involved. I see them as Islamophobic bullies."

Ahead of the broadcast, Rahman said: “I believe the programme is being used for political campaigning and electioneering purposes just weeks before local and Mayoral elections in May.

“A dossier passed to us by a BBC whistleblower has revealed it to be in total breach of the BBC’s editorial guidelines as a public broadcaster.

“It has clear racist and Islamophobic overtones targeting the Bangladeshi Muslim community in Tower Hamlets.”

Meanwhile a 26-minute video has been producing attacking the allegations made by Panorama.

Ted Jeory said on his Trial by Jeory blog: “As to whether there is a criminal investigation into the BBC/Films of Record, my understanding is that is manifestly not the case. The BBC has told the Mayor this but he seems to have ignored it. Both the BBC and Films of Record quite rightly notified the ICO as soon as they were aware of the data breach. Note my point re the council’s actions above.

"In my view, the journalist they hired should be ashamed of herself. She apparently claimed she had become concerned about the nature of the programme, that it was somehow trying to bring shame on Britain’s Bangladeshi community. Whether any pressure was exerted on her from external sources, I don’t know. I do know that many, many Bangladeshis are terrified about speaking out in public for fear of vilification in their own community. They’re quite happy to talk to journalists in private but very rarely go on the record. The few that do are brave.

"What also galls is that this journalist now claims whistleblower status for betraying whistleblowers. It’s my understanding that she made not one attempt to raise apparent concerns about the programme with any of the Panorama team. As a journalist, she would have known the BBC has in place strict and confidential channels for such concerns."

A spokesperson for the Information Commissioners' office said: "We have recently been made aware of a possible data breach at Films of Record.

"We will be making enquiries into the circumstances of the alleged breach of the Data Protection Act before deciding what action, if any, needs to be taken.”

A BBC spokesperson said: "The Mayor’s claims are not true. There is no criminal investigation. We voluntarily notified the Information Commissioner after we discovered that a researcher had taken confidential information held by the programme makers and provided it to the Mayor's office. We strongly reject any suggestion of racial, religious or political motivation in the making or broadcast of Monday’s programme, which investigated matters of legitimate public interest regarding an elected official.”
 
On the issue of the data breach a BBC spokesperson said: "We can confirm that there has been a breach of data protection at an independent production company working with the BBC on a Panorama investigation as a result of unauthorised disclosure by a former researcher on the production team, in breach of her obligation of confidentiality.  This breach includes material relating to the programme’s confidential sources.  Our primary concern is to protect our sources and we are urgently investigating the matter. We have also notified the Information Commissioner’s Office.”

It is understood that the researcher concerned was working for the BBC for less than a week and the first corporation knew about the matte was when it received a dossier containing information from the programme from lawyers acting on behalf of the London Borough of Tower Hamlets, in early March. 

MORE ON THIS STORY : 

Tags: 

Sign up for our free weekly digital magazine, Press Gazette Journalism Weekly, and daily newsletter
To contact Press Gazette with a story call 0207 936 6433
or email pged@pressgazette.co.uk
To advertise, please call 0207 936 6764.