BBC chief says statutory press regulation risks independence

The director general of the BBC, Mark Thompson, has said it is “unreasonable” to suggest other media organisations in the UK “can or could operate in the way the BBC does”.

Testifying at the Leveson Inquiry this morning, Thompson said it was “important for the plurality of media in this country that the press is not constrained” in the same way as the BBC is, with with its public service requirements and statutory backing.

“I think this country has benefited from having a range of media that are funded differently, constituted differently, have different objectives,” he said.

He noted that the British public had “uniquely high” expectations of the broadcaster’s standards, and that the BBC was “committed to being most trustworthy source of news in the world”.

He added that statutory regulation of the press may risk newspapers’ independence from the government.

During his marathon 2 hour and 45 minute session, Thompson said the public service broadcaster used private investigators for surveillance and security purposes, rather than “primary journalistic inquiry”. In his witness statement, Thompson wrote that PIs were used on 232 occasions by the BBC from January 2005 to July 2011, with one being hired in 2001 to track down “a known paedophile”. Thompson said there was a “strong public interest defence justification” for doing so.

Thompson stressed that subterfuge, notably secret filming, would also on used by the BBC in the case of “very serious” public interest stories, adding that there would need to be “clear prima facie evidence” of any wrongdoing, as well as no other journalistic way of recording it.

He cited the abuse at a care home exposed by investigation programme Panorama last year as an example.

Follow Index on Censorship’s coverage of the Leveson Inquiry on Twitter – @IndexLeveson