The BBC has been forced to apologise and pay damages to a Tunisian politician over a story published on its website last November, claiming false links with extremist groups.
The story falsely suggested Rached Ghannouchi, the leader of the Ennahda political party, had condoned terrorist attacks by extremist groups and that he made threats to frustrate the country’s democratic process.
The apology, which ran today on the BBC website, said:
“In a ‘Viewpoint’ article by a contributor titled ‘Tunisia at Risk’, posted on 21 November 2012, some statements were made about Rached Ghannouchi, the leader of the Tunisian Ennahda Party, which were incorrect. It was said that a video recording of a meeting between Mr Ghannouchi and some Salafists appeared to show him co-ordinating policy with them and that this suggested he condoned the violent attack by Salafists on the United States mission and the burning of the American School in Tunis in September 2012. It is accepted that Mr Ghannouchi did not condone the attacks and that the meeting with the Salafists had nothing to do with those subsequent events. The article also wrongly stated that Mr Ghannouchi had threatened, prior to the elections in 2011, to order troops on to the streets if the Ennahda Party did not get the results he expected. It is accepted that he did not make this statement. The BBC apologises to Mr Ghannouchi for these mistakes and the distress they caused him.”
Ghannouchi’s solicitors, Carter Ruck, said the BBC had paid “a substantial sum in damages” to its client as well as his legal costs.
Ghannouchi said: “I am delighted that the BBC has apologised over these wholly false allegations. I welcome that the BBC has set the record straight and made clear that these allegations were entirely unfounded.”