Broadcaster 'tried to rush out' retraction on busy news day

Grade tells Paul Vallely that timing of statement was 'too much of a coincidence'

The BBC tried to bury its apology to Band Aid by broadcasting it on a heavy news day, the former chairman of the BBC and Band Aid trustee, Michael Grade, claimed yesterday.

"On a number of occasions the BBC tried to rush out an announcement, on heavy news days," said Mr Grade, a former Controller of BBC1 and chief executive of Channel 4. "They tried to bounce us into making an announcement, in terms that weren't agreed, on the day the Chilean miners were released and then on the day the public spending cuts were announced. They said it was just coincidence. But it was a bit too much of a coincidence, if you ask me."

Mr Grade said that the process of extracting an apology from the BBC had been protracted and painful. "From the moment it dawned on the BBC that they had got this story horribly wrong they seemed to believe that to come clean and apologise quickly would be a sign of weakness. They didn't grasp the fact that a quick and fulsome admission of failure is actually a sign of great strength," he said.

"It is surprising to me that a story so devoid of evidence could make it to air. Given the outcome of its own investigation, and the admissions now made, I'm very surprised that the BBC attempted to defend the smear."

But it did for almost eight months before agreeing to make an apology. It was "an unnecessarily difficult process", he said, which "does the BBC no credit whatsoever, undermining... its reputation as a world-class news organisation."

The strength of the BBC's reputation meant that when it does make a mistake it was "more serious than anybody else's mistake," he said. Bob Geldof agreed. "The BBC has a special obligation, most singularly in the case of the World Service whose broadcasts are relied upon by people in difficult situations in places like Africa where the truth can be a life or death issue," the Band Aid founder said. "So it has a particular responsibility to check its facts."

Yet the BBC had been terribly slow in owning up to the mistake it had made. "The Band Aid trustees are all experienced campaigners," said Michael Grade. "We know the media, how it works, the people, we know the levers to pull. Yet this whole process has been a nightmare for us. So what chance does the ordinary person have of getting redress from the BBC. It is very worrying.

"Everybody makes mistakes. It's how quickly you put them right that counts. What we discovered is that there is a large degree of arrogance in the BBC on the journalistic side that doesn't believe it can be wrong. And most of the time it isn't. I've been on the other side. And I know there are many times where powerful people put pressure on you to drop the story or alter it and you check it out and find out its true. So it's understandable that their first response to us was that we were just trying to put pressure on them.

"But there must have come a moment quite early in the process where they realised that the programme didn't stack up," he said. Yet two months in the BBC Director General wrote to the trustees maintaining the reports were "robust and excellent journalism". "That looks a bit odd now in the light of these apologies. I don't know how he could have written that letter knowing what we now know."

John Kennedy, a former record industry lawyer and the Band Aid trustee who oversaw the complaint believes the BBC complaints system needs an overhaul. "I have respect for the professionalism shown by the complaints unit but they are in a difficult position. They are investigating complaints against the BBC, on BBC notepaper, in BBC premises, hired and fired by the BBC and answerable to the BBC, so I don't see how they really can be independent," he said. "BBC funds should be used to fund a completely independent unit."

Ofcom could not fulfil that role as it is constituted: "Unfortunately, the rules relating to complaints to Ofcom on the BBC are a labyrinth of complexity". Ofcom should have greater teeth so far as the BBC is concerned.

"If people of the influence of Bob Geldof and Michael Grade – backed by contacts and expertise that could put thousands of hours into this complaint – struggled, what hope would a wronged ordinary individual have of getting any semblance of justice from this process?"

"In the end we have the outcome we wanted," concluded Bob Geldof. "But serious damage may well have been done to people's confidence that the money they give to those in need gets where it is supposed to. And the most fulsome apology can never undo all the damage that has been done."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
Attenborough with the primates
tvWhy BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
News
Campbell: ‘Sometimes you have to be economical with the truth’
newsFormer spin doctor says MPs should study tactics of leading sports figures like José Mourinho
Sport
football
Life and Style
Agretti is often compared to its relative, samphire, though is closer in taste to spinach
food + drink
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
Kelly Osbourne will play a flight attendant in Sharknado 2
people
News
Down-to-earth: Winstone isn't one for considering his 'legacy'
people
News
The dress can be seen in different colours
i100
Sport
Wes Brown is sent-off
football
Voices
Lance Corporal Joshua Leakey VC
voicesBeware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
Life and Style
Alexander McQueen's AW 2009/10 collection during Paris Fashion Week
fashionMeet the collaborators who helped create the late designer’s notorious spectacles
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Ashdown Group: Junior Business Systems Analyst - High Wycombe - £30,000

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Junior Business Systems Analyst role...

Guru Careers: Talent Manager

£30-35k (P/T - Pro Rata) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienc...

Sauce Recruitment: New Media Marketing Manager - EMEA - Digital Distribution

£35000 - £45000 per annum + up to £45,000: Sauce Recruitment: The Internation...

Recruitment Genius: Marketing / PR / Social Media Executive

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A thriving online media busines...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003
Barbara Woodward: Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with the growing economic superpower

Our woman in Beijing builds a new relationship

Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with growing economic power
Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer. But the only British soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross in Afghanistan has both

Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer

Beware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
Alexander McQueen: The catwalk was a stage for the designer's astonishing and troubling vision

Alexander McQueen's astonishing vision

Ahead of a major retrospective, Alexander Fury talks to the collaborators who helped create the late designer's notorious spectacle
New BBC series savours half a century of food in Britain, from Vesta curries to nouvelle cuisine

Dinner through the decades

A new BBC series challenged Brandon Robshaw and his family to eat their way from the 1950s to the 1990s
Philippa Perry interview: The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course

Philippa Perry interview

The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef recreates the exoticism of the Indonesian stir-fry

Bill Granger's Indonesian stir-fry recipes

Our chef was inspired by the south-east Asian cuisine he encountered as a teenager
Chelsea vs Tottenham: Harry Kane was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope

Harry Kane interview

The striker was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope
The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

Michael Calvin's Last Word

For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?
HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?