BBC in £30,000 libel payout to councillor Liza Begum over misidentification

BBC pays £30,000 in libel damages after 'racist' misidentification of councillor

Apsana Begum (left) and Liza Begum (right)

Labour Councillor Liza Begum has won £30,000 libel damages from the BBC after the “racist” misidentification of her as an another politician with the same surname who was facing fraud allegations.

The wrong video was used to accompany a report on BBC One London News on 29 October 2020.

The presenter introduced a report by the BBC London Political Correspondent with: “I understand housing fraud allegations have been made against a Labour MP”.

The correspondent replied: “Yeah, this is Apsana Begum who is a Labour MP for Poplar and Limehouse, being the MP for just under a year and it follows an investigation into how she got the tenancy to her housing association flat. She faces 3 charges of dishonesty, failing to disclose information to make a gain for herself”.

Simultaneously, the BBC broadcast a video not of Apsana Begum MP (who has since been cleared of all charges), but of Cllr Begum addressing Labour Party’s 2019 General Election Race and Faith.

Apsana Begum MP is pictured top (left) with councillor Liza Begum (right).

The BBC has admitted defaming councillor Begum.

In a statement read out at the High Court today councillor Begum’s lawyer Mark Henderson said: “Ms Begum was concerned about many people believing that she, a known housing campaigner, was the subject of the report.

“The misidentification caused Ms Begum particular distress because it seemed another example of the BBC, and the media generally, misidentifying BAME people, which fed into racist tropes. She was particularly distressed that the confusion was of two women of colour appearing at a Race and Faith event, and that nobody in the BBC corrected it before the film of her was broadcast.”

The BBC agreed to broadcast an apology and correction the following evening and councillor Begum submitted the following request: “I would also like to know what processes you will be taking as an organisation to ensure this does not happen again – this is not the first time that people of colour have been mixed up, the BBC is a reputable and trusted organisation, you really must do better”.

A BBC editor responded: “You are of course correct to say that we should ensure this does not happen again. I have alerted all the relevant people, teams and departments to the specific error in this case, but to also to your wider point that such instances are highly regrettable.”

In a letter of claim, councillor Begum’s lawyers said: “The fact that the video in which our client was unaccountably misidentified, and which was chosen to link her with charges of dishonesty, was of her speaking at the launch of Labour’s Race and Faith Manifesto, a presentation aimed at overcoming such racist attitudes, makes your conduct all the more concerning, aggravating, offensive, and inexplicable.”

The BBC responded by stating: “Here, the error arose because the video in question was incorrectly labelled as identifying your client because she and Apsana Begum appeared at the same Labour event where the recording in question was captured. That was what caused the original confusion in the archive. That does not make the mistake ‘racist’ as your client has claimed online.”

Begum told the BBC in response that “The reason that this mistake is not the same as confusing the identities of two non-BAME individuals is because of the classic racist trope that BAME people look the same and a long history of BAME people being treated as one in the same rather than individuals in their own right”.

Cllr Begum said she received no answer from the BBC to her questions about whether the BBC has put in place any processes as an organisation to guard against misidentification of BAME people in light of this case and previous incidents.

The High Court heard that the BBC’s “disinclination to make any public statement committing to processes to guard against misidentification of people from BAME communities has exacerbated the distress caused to Ms Begum by the defamatory imputation broadcast about her as a result of confusing her with another woman of the same race appearing at the same event”.

Speaking outside the High Court today, Cllr Begum said: “It is right that the BBC has publicly apologised for its mistake, but time and time again we have seen the BBC and other organisations make the same mistake with people of colour. It is unacceptable that the media make such errors and it reflects a deep seated notion that all people of colour look the same.

“The High Court heard how the BBC refused to make a public commitment to put processes in place to guard against this in future. I hope that the BBC will now implement processes to ensure mistakes such as this do not happen again and improve diversity within the organisation. It’s time the diversity of our communities is reflected in our country’s media and workplaces generally. I would like to thank my legal team for fighting to ensure that the High Court heard what happened and that I received very substantial libel damages for the distress caused. “

Her lawyer Zillur Rahman of Rahman Lowe Solicitors said: “I am delighted for my client. This case highlights the dangers of media outlets confusing BAME persons with one another, as has been the case previously with the BBC confusing Black Labour MPs Dawn Butler MP and Marsha de Cordova MP, and the Black basketball players, LeBron James and Kobe Bryant. These mistaken identity cases can significantly damage a person’s reputation, as was the case here”.

A BBC spokesperson said: “We are very sorry for the distress this has caused. It was a genuine mistake during a live programme that arose from archive footage being incorrectly labelled in our system. We apologised on air at the first opportunity and took immediate steps to correct our system. We recognise we must do better so have taken steps internally to avoid similar situations occurring.”



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Author: Dominic Ponsford

Dominic Ponsford is the editor of Press Gazette


1 thought on “BBC pays £30,000 in libel damages after 'racist' misidentification of councillor”

  1. It’s just a mistake – should it really cost the BBC £30,000? An apology should suffice. These days anywhere there is the possibility of playing the race card for potential financial gain – the queues form.

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