The Charles Moore school of editorial judgement

Policy Exchange chairman Charles Moore has been hitting back at Newsnight over its critique of the evidence behind the think tank’s report, The Hijacking of British Islam.

Exchange had offered them many of the receipts it had collected from
mosques as evidence of purchase; now they said that they had shown the
receipts to mosques and that there were doubts about the authenticity
of one or two of them.

Given that the report was
being published that night, the obvious thing for Newsnight to do was
to broadcast Policy Exchange’s findings at once, allowing the mosques
to have their say about the receipts.

There was no need for Newsnight to claim "ownership" of the report.
Instead, the editor, Peter Barron, decided to run nothing. His decision
meant the Policy Exchange report was not touched by the BBC at all. (Daily Telegraph)

The approach Moore advocates would have been highly questionable. One of any editor’s basic functions is to ensure their output is not libellous. There is a notable precedent to suggest that disclaiming "ownership" of the report would not have achieved that.

In 2003 The Telegraph published a series of allegations about George Galloway, based on documents purportedly uncovered in Iraq by reporter David Blair.

When Galloway sued, the Telegraph’s executive editor, Neil Darbyshire, disclaimed "ownership" of the documents involved.

"It has never been the Telegraph’s case to suggest that
the allegations contained in these documents are true," he said outside
court on Thursday.

"These documents were published by us because their
contents raised some very serious questions at a crucial stage in the
war against Iraq.

"The Telegraph did not and could not perform a detailed investigation into their contents."

He added: "When we published the documents we did so
believing that their contents were important, should be made public and
would in due course be investigated by the proper authorities." (BBC News)

The judge recognised this argument for the disingenous ploy that it was and ruled in favour of Galloway, leaving the Telegraph to pay damages of £150,000 and costs estimated as £1.2 million.

The BBC’s approach to the Policy Exchange report may well have been dictated by the ruling in this case.

The Telegraph editor at the time of the Galloway libel was, of course, Charles Moore.






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