The BBC has been plunged into a fair few impartiality controversies recently. But while such rows can often be a matter of subjectivity and taste, you would hope that Corporation staff would draw the line at promoting a convicted arsonist accused of orchestrating a 'terrorist campaign' against Oxford University. Yikes.
This latest BBC East drama hails from Cambridgeshire and was caused by Auntie's coverage a fortnight ago of an animal rights protest outside a facility that breeds dogs for laboratory research. Activists have been protesting outside Marshall BioResources against such breeding for the past two months, with 15 arrests made at the time the Beeb published its original article. Among those protestors interviewed for online and broadcast was one Mel Brown.
Who is he? Well, Brown was originally known as Mel Broughton and was jailed in 2009 for 10 years after being found guilty of conspiracy to commit arson. He fire-bombed two Oxford University colleges over plans to build an animal research laboratory and was accused in court of orchestrated the planting of home-made petrol bombs as part of a 'terrorist campaign.' Unfortunately no one at the BBC thought to research the backstory of their star interviewee for its online or broadcast coverage of the protests.
It took an ordinary member of the public writing in to BBC East to point out Brown/Broughton's history before the Corporation realised its mistake in showcasing the animal rights fire-bomber. Correspondence seen by Steerpike shows the viewer pointing out that a 'quick internet search' would inform reporters that the 'lead organiser who obviously told you his name is Mel Brown' was actually 'Mel Broughton.' They told Corporation staff that 'you are giving air time to a convicted criminal' and asked 'Do you normally give air time to convicted fire bombers?'
An embarrassed member of BBC East was forced to respond to the complainant, thanking them – with considerable understatement – for 'bringing this matter to our attention.' Digital Editor Mark Bulstrode replied that 'we have since been able to verify details of Mel Brown's previous identity and conviction' and 'made further changes to the copy as a result' with a line at the bottom included to reference the update in light of his conviction. The television piece has been pulled from iPlayer with Bulstrode telling the viewer that 'all our editors' on 'TV, radio and online' have (belatedly) been made 'aware of this detail.'
One to remember next time BBC execs are up before Parliament claiming to produce 'the best journalism in the world.'