BBC: ‘robust’ legal advice helped football exposé hit target

The executive producer of this week's Panorama programme exposing allegations of widespread corruption in Premiership football said the programme was only able to air thanks to the "extraordinary robustness" of the BBC's media lawyer.

The investigation, Undercover: Football's Dirty Secrets, which exposed alleged bribe-taking by Premiership managers, was watched by an audience of 5.1 million on Tuesday night.

BBC Current Affairs executive producer Paul Woolwich told Press Gazette: "On a story as incendiary as this, on a subject as big as this, involving people with very deep pockets, suddenly we were up against the premiership of libel lawyers in this country.

"It was only due to the extraordinary robustness of the BBC lawyer, Roger Law, that this thing got to air. Roger is a media lawyer who helps producers get stuff to air rather than finding reasons why you can't broadcast."

Kevin Bond, former assistant to Portsmouth manager Harry Redknapp, was named in the alleged bribe scandal, as well as Bolton Wanders manager Sam Allardyce, his agent son Craig Allardyce, Redknapp himself and Chelsea's director of youth football, Frank Arnesen.

Woolwich said that reporter Alex Millar, who has a number of contacts in football and had worked on numerous stories about "dodgy dealings" within the sport, was attracted to the story because it was something that had never been done.

He said: "This was way before Mike Newell [the Luton manager] had made his allegations about bungs and was long before Lord Stevens had been appointed by the Premiership to investigate bungs. That happened after we were already deeply in undercover.

"We knew there was a story there. But it's not tell-tell, it's show and tell and in television, with the emphasis on the pictures, that's the difficult bit."

As part of the BBC's checking process for the report it used a "second chair" — an independent assessor who reviewed all the material gathered and checked that what appeared on screen was an accurate reflection of the evidence.

This aimed to avoid journalists using a number of choice quotes or editing material to show subjects in a bad light.

Woolwich said that Panorama put allegations to the individuals involved two weeks before the programme aired, but instead of responding to Panorama, they leaked some information about the show to newspapers including The Sun.

The programme included footage gathered by football insider Knut auf dem Berge — a Uefa-licensed coach — who played a vital role by going undercover to film transactions that would normally happen behind closed doors.

Woolwich said: "He was sick to death of the corruption in the sport and decided that now was the time to stand up and be counted."

The Football Association said on Wednesday that it had asked the BBC to provide all of the information it obtained during its investigation and that it expected this information to be provided as a matter of urgency.

The Association said in a statement: "The FA takes any allegations of corruption in the game extremely seriously and will actively investigate the claims made by the programme.

"Based on the evidence obtained, the FA will then determine what action should be taken."

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