The Death of an MP: Naked truth proved too strong for broadcast: BBC coverage

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The Independent Online
IT WAS NOT until 1pm yesterday that the BBC was able to tell its listeners and viewers that Stephen Milligan had been found 'naked, except for women's underwear'. The words 'stockings' and 'orange' were still forbidden, writes Maggie Brown.

Staff working at the BBC described a high level of intervention from senior news and current affairs executives, including Mark Damazer, editor of TV news programmes.

Journalists on the radio and television breakfast programmes were specifically guided away from reporting details widely available in national newspapers. The phrase 'partially clad' was deemed unacceptable for the television breakfast news.

The Today programme, for which Peter Hobday interviewed Sir Norman Fowler, the Tory party chairman, referred to the 'unusual sexual circumstances' in which the body was discovered: this was the approved BBC description.

'You cannot imagine the fury here,' one BBC journalist said. 'It is totally bizarre.' The PM programme was banned from mentioning the removal by police of Mr Milligan's kitchen cupboards. The word 'orange' was banned from the airwaves. The World Tonight was told it could mention the sexual details only once, and only in a news bulletin.

The daily reviews of yesterday's newspapers were carefully compiled and checked to ensure no lurid details or television shots of offending front pages were included.

Richard Peel, controller of information, news and current affairs, said the BBC was a national broadcaster and could not peddle stories without being sure the facts were verified. It also had to consider questions of taste and decency: what was suitable for a breakfast audience.

However, by 1pm yesterday the BBC had managed to verify that Mr Milligan died wearing women's clothing. A BBC reporter rang the Press Complaints Commission to see whether the public was protesting at newspaper coverage of the event. The PCC had received just one call.