News - November 2002


7th Nov '02

'Public money used to showcase rival' claim

A BBC Panorama investigative team has had its integrity called into question by Anti-Fascist Action (AFA). Following a successful claim against the BBC at Clerkenwell County Court on February 6 2002, Anti-Fascist Action took further legal advice on suing on the grounds of 'false attribution'. However, due to the prohibitively high legal costs involved, AFA has, this week, decided not to pursue the case further.

Anti-Fascist Action sold the Panorama team footage of the Soho bomber, David Copeland, for exclusive use for £5,000 and received a written undertaking that AFA would be credited when the programme was broadcast.

The Panorama team broke its agreement to accredit AFA and the anti-fascists claim that the programme implied the footage had come from another organization.

When the Panorama programme was broadcast on 30 June 2000, not only was all mention of AFA omitted but, according to the evidence submitted, the Copeland footage was used in such a way as to imply it had been shot by another organization, Searchlight.

Key members of the Panorama team including the producer, the deputy producer and the narrator have strong links with Searchlight.

Panorama producer Andrew Bell was a key member of the Searchlight 'team' throughout the 1980s while Nick Lowles, the deputy producer of the programme is currently co-editor of the Searchlight magazine. In addition to Gerry Gable who was interviewed as a Searchlight representative, Graham McLagan who narrated the programme and who negotiated the deal with AFA on behalf of the BBC, later co-authored a book on Copeland entitled 'Mr Evil' with Nick Lowles.

In the Panorama documentary which went out on the night of Copeland's conviction, the AFA footage was used to introduce Searchlight as an organization who have kept "a close watch on the far-right for forty years". Face to camera Gerry Gable proclaimed: "we've got our fingers on the pulse". In spite of no other anti-fascist appearing the BBC steadfastly denied that there was "any implication" that Searchlight had filmed Copeland.

An AFA source commented: "During negotiations we were constantly told 'you can trust Aunty Beeb' but they were generally so slippery we had to insist on money up front before the tape was handed over. We also insisted that the agreement to accredit AFA be put in writing. Call us naïve but we somehow expected, considering it is after all a public broadcasting authority we were dealing with that we had done enough to protect our interests. We were proved wrong."

On February 6, despite the BBC being represented by a contracts specialist hired at a fee stated in court as '£1,500 a day', Clerkenwell County Court took just a few minutes to dismiss the BBC arguments that a contract breach had not occurred.

After the Panorama programme was broadcast on June 30 AFA immediately contacted the BBC for an explanation but was told producer Andrew Bell was 'on holiday'.

It was not until July 17 that Bell responded, to explain the omission as an 'genuine oversight'. Later the BBC later insisted it was under no such obligation to accredit AFA anyway as any written agreement AFA had with Bell was outside the terms of the contract. Then between June 2000 and February 2002 while continuing to deny liability the BBC also offered AFA representatives a four- figure sum to settle out of court.

An AFA representative says, "What gives the lie to the BBC stance that it could be all put down to a 'genuine oversight' or absent mindedness is that the script had been so clearly written to showcase Searchlight. Which means that if, as the BBC insists, the AFA caption was to have been added on the day of transmission, this would necessitate the narrative being changed at the last minute too in order to explain the AFA reference".

He adds, "We have now been advised that to pursue the case on grounds of false attribution would prove very costly. As it is not a primary anti-fascist objective to humble the BBC, while it is galling, it does look as if they have got away with."