Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s well-reported gaffe yesterday, when he referred to a woman he had just met as “bigoted” in a conversation with an aide that he thought was off air, was broken by Sky News. It was Sky’s microphone as the pool broadcaster at yesterday’s event in Rochdale that was still on and clipped to the PM’s jacket as he let off some campaign-changing steam… As the audio and footage passed into the public domain, it was picked up and aired by other broadcasters and news organisations.
Sky is covered by Ofcom’s broadcasting code, which says in section 7.14 on “Deception, set-ups and ‘wind-up’ calls”:
7.14 Broadcasters or programme makers should not normally obtain or seek information, audio, pictures or an agreement to contribute through misrepresentation or deception. (Deception includes surreptitious filming or recording.) However:
- it may be warranted to use material obtained through misrepresentation or deception without consent if it is in the public interest and cannot reasonably be obtained by other means.
But what if the BBC had of been the pool broadcaster for the day? – the corporation’s editorial guidelines are stricter and have a section on secret recording, in which “deliberately continuing a recording when the other party thinks it has come to an end” is listed as a definition of secret recording.
According to a Telegraph.co.uk report, Sky News said Brown left in his car before the microphone could be removed and switched off, so “deliberately continuing” perhaps doesn’t apply here if it had been the BBC’s mic instead.
But the BBC’s editorial guidelines also state:
The following rules apply to any proposal to secretly record, whether for news, factual or comedy and entertainment purposes.
- All proposals to record secretly must be approved in advance by the relevant senior editorial figure in each Division or for Independents by the commissioning editor who may consult Editorial Policy. Each Division is responsible for maintaining these records to enable the BBC to monitor and review the use of such techniques across its output.
- A signed record must be kept of the approval process, even if the request is turned down, and secretly recorded material must be logged. This record is required even if the material gathered isn’t broadcast.
- The gathering and broadcast of secretly recorded material is always a two stage process. The decision to gather is always taken separately from the decision to transmit.
- Any deception required for the purposes of obtaining material and secret recording should be the minimum necessary and proportionate to the subject matter and must be referred to the relevant senior editorial figure or for Independents to the commissioning editor.
- The re-use of secretly recorded material must be referred to a senior editorial figure or for Independents to the commissioning editor before transmission and a record kept of the decision.
Would the outcome have been different or would public interest overrule?