BBC Exec acquitted after sexual offence victim named on air

The Head of the BBC’s Asian Network, Arif Ansari, has been acquitted after a Rotherham sexual offences victim was named in a live broadcast. Ansari was editing the programme, and stood accused of allowing the reporter to name the victim as he reported live from outside the trial of her abuser.

Victims of sexual offences have automatic lifelong anonymity under the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 1992. This applies not just to victims named in court hearings; the protection starts at the time the allegation is made.

The reporter, who had shown the script to Ansari in advance, said he believed the name was a pseudonym. Ansari said that he had not questioned the name as anonymity for sexual offences victims is a basic principle of journalism and he trusted the reporter. The script was not seen by BBC lawyers. In fact, the reporter, whilst having been at the BBC for 9 years, had never reported on a court case before, although Ansari said he did not know this in advance. The BBC criticised the decision to bring the prosecution against Ansari personally rather than against the organisation.
Ansari was found not guilty because the Judge could not conclude that Ansari had ‘reasonable suspicion’ the report would breach the victim’s anonymity when he reviewed the script. She nonetheless flagged the issue of training for court reporters.

The victim said she felt sick and panicked when she heard her name broadcast. The reporter has apologised to the victim, for what was an ‘honest mistake’, which he said he would ‘regret forever’.
The Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act is a vital piece of legislation for anyone reporting on allegations about, or the trial of, sexual offences. Victims cannot be named unless they have given written consent. Journalists should always be aware, and editors should question any name appearing in such a report. This case also shows the importance of obtaining pre-broadcast legal advice where appropriate. If there is any doubt about whether a victim has consented to be identified, or about whether a name is real or a pseudonym, it is sensible to remove the name from any report.