The BBC has been fined £28,000 for contempt of court after broadcasting a six-second clip from ‘inside’ a remote hearing on regional news bulletins.
The High Court today handed down the sanction after South East Today included video footage from a judicial review hearing on its early evening and late night programmes on 18 November. It is believed to be the first time the court has penalised a broadcaster for recording and then showing footage from a remote hearing.The court heard that a reporter working from home had been tasked with covering a hearing into a controversial decision by Surrey County Council to grant planning permission for a fracking operation at Horse Hill, near Horley.
Technical staff recorded proceedings, the court heard. The reporter and news editor both submitted that while most reports included footage from virtual meetings, the rules regarding court hearings ‘simply did not occur to either of them’.
The court found that despite the producer’s trawl through two minutes of over two hours of uploaded footage looking for usable material, the reporter had no intention of broadcasting extracts as part of her report. Instead she used a clip as an ‘establishing shot’ – mimicking footage usually broadcast from outside a courtroom. The court heard that the news editor had known a recording of proceedings was going to be made and expressly sanctioned it.
Giving judgment, Lady Justice Andrews and Mr Justice Warby said it was of ‘very limited mitigation’ that journalists were operating in a world in which Zoom and other remote platforms had been the new normality. They suggested that what happened pointed to ‘serious deficiencies’ in the information and training provided to BBC journalists.
The judges added: ‘It was an aggravating factor that the BBC is the principal news provider in this country and that this unfortunate sequence of acts in contempt of court was a departure from the high standards that are rightly expected of it and which it sets for itself.
‘The broadcast was repeated. The clip was seen by around half a million viewers, though none of them complained about it. The problem could and probably would have been avoided had the BBC taken more proactive steps.’