CNN Shipman victory paves way for British broadcasters

News organisations in the UK will be able to apply for permission to broadcast the public inquiry that follows the conviction of serial killer Dr Harold Shipman after CNN launched a successful bid to gain access to part of the proceedings.

Filming of the first phase of the inquiry, when the families of Shipman’s former patients will give evidence, has still been banned.

However, the inquiry chairwoman, Dame Janet Smith, said she would allow filming of the second phase of the inquiry when evidence will be heard from the professional bodies involved in the case.

Dame Janet will now decide which broadcasters can use feeds from the voice-activated cameras at the inquiry at Manchester Town Hall next spring.

The BBC and ITN will apply for permission to both record and broadcast the feeds after the success of the CNN application, which was represented by Geoffrey Robertson QC. The decision reverses an earlier rejection of an application by the BBC and ITN in June this year, when both broadcasters were denied access to all sections of the inquiry.

But Dame Janet ruled that staff who worked at Shipman’s surgery in Hyde, Greater Manchester, including a nurse, should not be filmed.

Agreeing to allowing access to the hearing’s cameras, Dame Janet said she accepted the argument of Chris Cramer, president of CNN International Networks, that "if a responsible broadcasting organisation were to provide regular in-depth coverage of the inquiry, those who followed it would gain a greater understanding of the issues involved in this inquiry.

"If the coverage included live extracts, it would be more interesting than a second-hand report from a journalist," she added. But she rejected that CNN had a right under Article 10 of the Human Rights Convention, on freedom of expression, arguing that "the right to film is purely a matter of permission".

Tony Maddox, senior vice president of CNN for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, said: "We are very pleased that the quality of our argument has succeeded.

"We are disappointed that we will not be able to film the first phase, a decision based on the judge’s inherent power to exercise discretion over court proceedings. We continue to believe that, under Article 10, the press has a right of access to the inquiry, including cameras, as a matter of law."

By Julie Tomlin

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