The Panorama team should have given Freddie Scappaticci more time to respond to allegations that he was the IRA informer known as Stakeknife.
This was the view of regulator Ofcom, which said the BBC acted with unfairness in Panorama, What Happened Next?, broadcast on 13 July, 2003.
Scappaticci’s lawyer, Michael Flanigan, said Panorama’s allegation that his client was a security services agent should not have been presented as a statement of fact.
Flanigan also complained that he was only contacted by BBC reporter John Ware at close of business on 10 July for comment.
He said this did not give him time to respond because his offices were closed on 11 and 12 July.
Scappaticci also argued that his privacy was infringed by the BBC’s use of the transcript of a secretly-recorded conversation involving him, which was originally broadcast on the Cook Report in 1993.
In its evidence to Ofcom, the BBC said Ware was one of its most experienced reporters on Northern Ireland issues.
He had three reliable sources who named Scappaticci as Stakeknife, the BBC added.
It also said Scappaticci had been widely named as Stakeknife elsewhere in the media prior to the Panorama programme.
John Ware said he spoke to Flanigan on 11 July and that he had not requested any additional information to be included in the programme.
In its judgment, Ofcom said the length of time the subject of a story should be given to respond depends on the seriousness of the allegations and the context in which they are made, including the strength and tone.
Ofcom said because of the “emphatic nature of the programme’s claim”, and of the claims made by Scappaticci in the secretly-recorded conversation, the BBC should have given him longer to respond.
Ofcom added that the BBC had acted with unfairness by describing Scappaticci’s previous denial that he was Stakeknife as “all bluff”.
However it said the BBC was justified in using a reconstruction of the Cook Report’s secretly-recorded 1993 conversation with Scappaticci because “the means of obtaining the information was proportionate to the matter under investigation”.
By Dominic Ponsford