BBC Pulls "Fake Sheikh" Documentary At Last Minute
The corporation says it was handed new information at the 11th hour and will broadcast the programme - which promised to reveal the identity of the secretive investigative reporter - at a later date.
This is what should have just been shown on BBC One: a documentary about Mazher Mahmood, one of the UK's most famous and controversial journalists.
The BBC had intended to broadcast Panorama, "Fake Sheikh: Exposed" tonight following the Court of Appeal's decision earlier today to allow the BBC to broadcast images of Mazher Mahmood. Shortly before transmission Mr Mahmood's lawyers submitted new information relating to one of the cases in the programme which, as a responsible broadcaster, the BBC needs to evaluate.Once this has been done we will broadcast "Fake Sheikh: Exposed", including recent footage of Mr Mahmood, as planned.
The coast looked clear for the programme on Friday, when an application from Mahmood's lawyers to block the programme fell in the High Court.
Mahmood often uses disguises during his investigations, famously including that of a wealthy Arab businessman, and guards his identity and image very closely. His lawyers argued in court on Friday that even his neighbours don't really "know his real identity".
Mahmood's lawyers went to the Court of Appeal to argue their case today, but were again unsuccessful.
So the BBC actually WON the legal argument and simply made the decision not to show the programme itself.
Mahmood is famous for a long list of celebrity stings, carried out during his career at the News of the World.
James Harding, the BBC's director of news and current affairs and a former editor of The Times was speaking at a Society of Editors event on Tuesday morning and had this to say about the programme:
This is a seriously good piece of work, extremely revealing and squarely in the public interest. But the worst of all worlds is when you get the big picture right, and trip up over a detail.
"So when some information we'd been asking to see for many days was sent to us by Mazher Mahmood's lawyers at seven o'clock last night, we, as a responsible broadcaster, had to consider it. We're looking at it, and we'll make sense of it as quickly as we can, and then we’ll broadcast it.
Mahmood himself issued a statement Tuesday afternoon, via his lawyers, Kingsley Napier.
He says: "The BBC approached me on 15 October and made a number of allegations against me relating to my career as an Investigative Journalist. As a result I instructed lawyers and they have provided detailed rebuttals and evidence showing that the allegations are unsustainable and wrong.
"I have a right to reply under the OFCOM code which I have exercised, but despite this the BBC has (during the time period given to me to reply) both publicised the fact that their programme will condemn me, called me a "crook" and tweeted mocking messages. They apparently still intend to broadcast the programme although in what form at this stage I do not know.
Mahmood claims that the BBC's assertion that it received new information at 7pm last night is false – he says the information was not new and was supplied last week.
It appears that at least some of this information concerns Panorama's sources, which Mahmood says are a former News of the World photographer and someone Mahmood describes as a "convicted fraudster".
Mahmood points out that a Metrolpolitan police investigation is underway into the collapse of the Tulisa Constavlos trial and he asks that the broadcast is delayed until the Met decided whether to prosecute
He concludes: "I hope the BBC will see sense and postpone any broadcast until the conclusion of any proceedings. I hope then that they will review and consider the evidence properly (and not threaten broadcast without the full facts) and stop the broadcast. This may be a vain hope. They are determined to condemn me whatever the truth."