Judge allows TV show's secret filming was legal

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The Independent Online
A HIGH COURT judge has quashed a controversial decision by the Broadcasting Standards Commission that the BBC's Watchdog programme invaded the privacy of the retailer Dixons when it filmed sales transactions secretly in the chain's stores.

The ruling, made last year at the height of a battle between Watchdog and a number of household names exposed by the programme, was legally challenged by the BBC on the basis that companies had no privacy to be infringed.

Yesterday, in a landmark decision Mr Justice Forbes ruled that only individuals have a right to privacy under the law. The commission said it was considering whether to take the judge's decision to appeal.

The BBC applied to the High Court to review the decision after the commission upheld a complaint by Dixons that an edition of the consumer programme, broadcast on 27 March 1997, was an unwarranted infringement of the company's privacy.

The judge said Dixons had been convicted of 10 criminal offences of selling second-hand goods as new.

Watchdog, investigating whether Dixons was still selling second-hand goods as new, secretly filmed 12 sales transactions and found no evidence of wrongdoing.

The footage was not used in the programme, but criticism was made of the quality of some of the goods at the stores and Dixons' previous convictions were mentioned.

In its ruling, the commission said that even though there was a public interest in the investigation by Watchdog, the infringement of privacy was unwarranted because more research should have been carried out before the filming went to air. The government- appointed commission's decision last August came when Watchdog and the BBC were under intense pressure from companies that the programme had "named and shamed".

The car-maker Ford brought together Dixons, BT, Airtours, Thomson Holidays, Hotpoint, Procter and Gamble, and the Automobile Association - companies exposed for wrongdoing on the programme - to discuss how they would counter the programme's investigations.