BBC to take legal action on watchdog ruling

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The Independent Online
LEGAL ACTION is to be taken by the BBC over criticism of a Panorama programme by the Broadcasting Complaints Commission.

The commission said the programme, 'Babies on Benefit', which was broadcast in September last year, was misleading and unfair in its portrayal of single mothers. But the BBC said last night that it would be seeking a judicial review of the case and said it stood by the programme.

'As far as we are concerned, it was a good piece of journalism,' the BBC said. 'We do not agree with the findings of the commission and we hope to get it overturned in the courts.'

The programme was criticised after it was broadcast at the height of the Government's attack on single mothers. It was seized upon by Conservative MPs as proof that young women were becoming pregnant to jump housing queues and gain extra state hand-outs.

The commission's adjudication, published officially today, says the programme was misleading and unfair. It failed to distinguish between young single mothers and others such as divorced and deserted women. It was also irresponsible in using unverified data from a scheme in New Jersey which purported to show that capping hand-outs halved the birth rate among young single women.

Complaints about the programme were made to the BCC by the National Council for One-Parent Families. Fiona Fox of the council said: 'The programme continues to be referred to by government ministers as evidence for the need for new policies to reduce benefits for lone parents.'

Anne Spackman, the council chairman, added: 'Any argument the BBC has with the commission has nothing to do with our case. The adjudication still stands.'

Canon Peter Pilkington, the chairman of the commission, said the BBC had a right to challenge the ruling, but he felt the commission had acted correctly.

The legal steps taken by the BBC are not unique but are highly unusual. Among the reasons for challenging a decision by a statutory body are that procedures were not carried out correctly or it acted outside its jurisdiction.

Despite its threat of legal action, the BBC is required to publish and broadcast the commission's ruling. The BBC said the ruling would be broadcast after Panorama on 26 September and in the Radio Times magazine of that week.

Nearly seven out of ten people believe that the BBC offers value for money, according to research findings published today, writes Rhys Williams.

However, most of more than 1,000 adults surveyed say the corporation could provide more information about programmes and where the money goes.