The BBC has repeated its belief that it should have been faced charges after a reporter named a rape victim during a live news bulletin last year, rather than the programme’s editor who has been cleared in court.
BBC Asian Network head of news Arif Ansari was charged with breaching the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 1992, which gives lifetime anonymity to victims of sexual offences.
Ansari, who denied the charge, was found not guilty by a judge after a two-day trial at Sheffield Magistrates’ Court last week.
BBC reporter Rickin Majithia believed he was using a pseudonym when he broadcast the name of a woman who had been raped by a taxi driver in Rotherham, in fact it had been her real name.
The mistake was aired in a radio report of the trial on 6 February last year.
Majithia told the court on Thursday he had never covered a trial before, and thought the name used in court for the victim was a pseudonym as the woman was giving evidence from behind a screen to protect her identity and because he had previously spoken with her under a different name.
Ansari was the producer who checked the script before broadcast and told the court he “trusted” Majithia, who he described as a “good journalist”.
He said his main legal concerns were over the reporter’s plan to interview the woman and whether any report would prejudice a future, linked trial.
Ansari said: “The fact we couldn’t name the victim is just straightforward and very obvious. That wasn’t my concern.”
The BBC said in a statement on Friday night it was “relieved” by the verdict and that it had been an “incredibly difficult” time for Ansari.
“He is a highly-regarded and diligent editor who has had the threat of a criminal record hanging over him for many months,” a spokesperson said.
The corporation added: “From the start we have accepted that mistakenly naming a victim of sexual abuse during a live broadcast last February was a serious mistake.
“We apologised directly to the individual concerned and to the court, and we reiterate that again today.”
Since Ansari first appeared in court in September, the BBC has maintained that the corporation itself should have been charged over the error.
“We firmly believe that it should have been the BBC itself answering in court for this mistake, rather than the individual editor,” it said.
By choosing to charge Ansari, the BBC said the Crown Prosecution Service risked “creating a climate of fear for editors seeking to cover the courts in the public interest”.
“Both our editor and our reporter continue to have our full support,” the BBC said on Friday.
District Judge Naomi Redhouse described the error as an “honest mistake” on the part of Majithia.
Delivering her verdict, she said that on balance she could not conclude Ansari had “reasonable suspicion” to believe that the report would breach the victim’s anonymity when he reviewed the script for the broadcast 20 minutes before it was delivered live on air.
But she said: “There may be lessons in this case for the training of court reporters. That’s not going to be a matter for me.”
Following the verdict, Majithia released a statement in which he said he was “truly sorry for happened and will remain so for the rest of my life”.
He said he was relieved of his reporting duties within days of the mistake and has since suffered health issues.
Picture: Danny Lawson/PA Wire