Journalists accuse BBC of censorshipAndrew 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.
- Guardian article: MP's lurid death shocks Tories, Patrick Wintour, Duncan Campbell and Loulee Jury, The Guardian, 8 February 1994, page 1 (Unnatural death of Stephen Milligan, PPS to Jonathan Aitken)
- Guardian article: Flex round neck ‘killed Milligan’ Duncan Campbell and Lawrence Donegan, The Guardian, 11 February 1994 (Unnatural death of the parliamentary private secretary to Defence Minister)
- Guardian article: Dead journalist sex smear 'foul' Malcolm Coad and David Pallister, Guardian, 2 June 1990, page 3 (Unnatural death of defence journalist)
- Reporter Simon O'Dwyer-Russell's obituary in Sunday Telegraph, 16 December 1990 The paper's own Defence and Diplomatic Correspondent with “unrivalled access to both the Armed Forces and the security services at all levels” died aged 29
- Times article: Journalist dies Times, 10 December 1990, page 2 (Simon O'Dwyer-Russell “died of a heart attack”, aged 29)
- Observer article: Revealed: How MI5 vets BBC staff David Leigh and Paul Lashmar, Observer, 18 August 1985, page 1
- Times article: MI6 fed Cold War propaganda to BBC Michael Evans, Times, 20 October 1997, page 8
- Saudi Arabia: BBC interviewed a convicted perjurer linked to the ruling family without alerting its audience and then insisted this was acceptable 2001: A BBC interview, a complaint and the BBC's response
- Cambridge student demonstration against arms trade investments, 2007 11 February 2007, Cambridge city centre
- Photos of Cambridge 2005 demonstration against County Council arms trade investment Shire Hall, Cambridge, 13 December 2005 (6 photographs)