BBC South Today Uses Crude, Tabloid Tactics To Smear Doctor

    The BBC can truly be a malign, bullying and worrying influence.

    The BBC’s operatives, when challenged, always put on an air of superiority and talk about their world class standards. Most of the time, this is a dangerous illusion, it seems to me. The BBC is a monopoly, is funded by government edict, often has the gutter standards of the worst tabloids, and unlike the rest of the media, is still immune from the recession’s impact.

Recently on BBC South Today I saw our state news provider at its worst. It used the inconclusive meanderings of an anonymous source to traduce the reputation of a doctor. Because this doctor was once subject to a court case for which he was found not guilty, and had since been struck off by the GMC, the BBC felt it could run the story without fear of retribution. Just like the worst examples of our gutter tabloid press. Nudge, nudge; wink, wink; there’s no smoke without fire, don’t you know.

I contacted the editor of South Today.

His reply is published below.

This is what I wrote –

The Editor

BBC South Today

From: Neil Winton

I watched the lunchtime report on Dr Tate today, and again this evening on BBC South Today. It was a travesty. It was irresponsible journalism. The report at 1.30 interviewed an anonymous woman, whose accusations amounted to only that the doctor looked at her. He was the doctor doing the examination for goodness sake. Of course he looked at her. I wasn’t sure that this was so because the lunchtime report didn’t have subtitles, I don’t think. It was very difficult to make out what the women said.

The version this evening had the transcript. How dare you use such a thin amount of evidence to try and traduce Dr Tate. Then you followed it up with some stern words from a lawyer, based again on the thinnest of evidence, but assuming his guilt from the film you had shown.

It may well be that the other charges you mentioned may indeed be stronger, but to air evidence on a case like this on zilch evidence is totally irresponsible. It seemed clear from the film, (I’m no doctor, I don’t really know) that ………. woman …. presumably had lost her baby (although you didn’t explain this, another example of irresponsible journalism) and felt that Dr Tate was somehow responsible for this.

Once you have aired accusations like this, it is hard to undo them. But I hope, as Editor, you will admit that this is not the way to report on serious cases, and that you will make sure the journalists responsible will be reprimanded.

I ought to point out that I know Dr Tate slightly. He is a member of my golf club. I know him well enough to say hello to, but that’s it. I have no knowledge of his background…… But that surely doesn’t justify your sickening and irresponsible trashing of his rights.

Regards

Neil

(I’ve edited this version)

 

This is the BBC’s response

Dear Mr Winton

Thank you for your e-mail about our report on Dr Rodney Tate on June 17. Please allow me to explain some of the background before I answer the issues you raise.

Five days before the report was aired – June 12th – we carried a short piece saying that Dr Tate had been struck off the Medical Register by the GMC.

Seven patients had complained that he had violated their privacy and performed examinations without their consent. He was a well known GP in Brighton, having practised at the Old Steine Surgery for 36 years.

The story you were unhappy was a follow-up. On the basis of the GMC’s decision, several patients had approached a lawyer called Sarah Harman. She was featured in our report and had told us that the patient we interviewed was considering suing Dr Tate and that others were doing the same.

We took the decision that, with the history of the GMC’s findings the previous week, it was a valid story to run. We pointed out that Dr Tate had not been convicted in a criminal court of any offences. He was acquitted in 2006. That is an important fact in this case and was clearly stated in the graphics part of the report.

However, an equally important fact was that he had been struck off by the GMC – the professional body which regulates doctors. Based on the fact that the GMC had ruled his behaviour was inappropriate and struck him off I took the decision that the story was important enough to run. Any action by the women would not suggest guilt of a criminal offence, it would be a civil matter.

The woman we interviewed was prepared to talk on the condition she was not identified. This is something we are happy to agree to in sensitive stories such as this one. Her interview was relevant as she was one of the complainants in the GMC case. No sexual intent was proved her case but his behaviour was considered inappropriate which amounts to more thanas you arguea mere examination. So the report we carried was not based as you assert on ‘thin evidence’. It was based on fact – that Dr Tate had been found guilty by a professional body of inappropriate behaviour in a working environment . A second fact is that patients are considering suing him. There is an important difference in language here – we did not state that they are definitely suing him.

I should also add that we did approach Dr Tate for an interview but he declined to comment. So rather than ‘trashing his rights’ we gave him the right of reply and he madea decision not to take it.

I hope this sheds some light on why weran the story.

Regards

Richard Spalding

Producer

BBC South Today

My comments

Nothing you say alters the fact that the interviewee, hiding behind anonymity, leveled accusations against Dr Tate that amounted to very little indeed. It seems to me that you ran this story because you knew that because of Dr Tate’s record, it would be very difficult for him to deflect even these flimsy accusations. Offering him the right of reply is meaningless in this context. Because you knew Dr Tate was in a weak position, it was alright to attack him, even if the material you had amounted to very little indeed. The material did not take whatever case might be forthcoming against Dr Tate any further. It simply made him look bad, even though what was said didn’t amount to much. You set up a bad context, then filled it with nudges and winks but no fact.

It seems to me that an ethical and responsible organisation would have declined to run this material, unless the participants were willing to come up with something substantial. This is the gutter journalism of the worst tabloids, not what I would expect from the BBC.

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