Press cutting

Journalists accuse BBC of censorship

Andrew Culf, Guardian, 9 February 1994, page 3

Andrew Culf Media Correspondent

BBC journalists yesterday complained they were unable to report Stephen Milligan's death fully because of an over-cautious approach by their bosses.

Staff said scripts had been censored and rewritten and they had been unable to refer to the circumstances in which Mr Milligan's body was discovered at his west London home.

Journalists alleged that John Birt, the BBC's director-general, had intervened personally to tone down coverage, but the suggestion was denied emphatically by the corporation last night.

It said Tony Hall, managing director of BBC news and current affairs, had been actively involved. The BBC was not in the business of carrying speculative reports and its reputation depended upon accuracy and authority.

The morning paper review on BBC1's Breakfast News was effectively censored, with an editorial decision not to show any of the tabloid front pages. The tabloids were also removed from Newsnight's look at the first editions on Monday night.

Tabloid headlines were unequivocal: Tory MP is found dead in stockings and suspenders (The Sun); Tory MP dies in kinky sex game (Daily Star). The tabloids carried extensive accounts, although there were significant differences in the details.

Despite the sensational aspects of the coverage, a spokesman for the Press Complaints Commission said it had received only one complaint.

On Radio 4's Today programme presenters used the circumlocution "sexual circumstances" in reference to the finding of the body. BBC1's One O'Clock News was more direct, referring to women's underwear and a plastic bag.

A BBC spokesman said: "We were not confident we could broadcast what the newspapers were running. There were a lot of inconsistencies."

The BBC would not report rumour and speculation, and used specific details only when it was satisfied they were accurate. Taste was another important factor, with large numbers of children likely to be watching at breakfast.

The MP's death ran as third item on Monday's Nine O'Clock News - a decision which caused surprise at ITN, which led News at Ten with the story. "It was an obvious lead story but we only carried specific details about him being found in women's stockings after one of our reporters confirmed the information," a spokeswoman said.

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