BBC pulls ‘Fake Sheikh’ programme


Published: Tuesday 11th November 2014 by The News Editor

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A BBC Panorama episode about undercover journalist Mazher Mahmood with up-to-date images of the ”Fake Sheikh” was not broadcast despite a ruling in the Court of Appeal not to grant him an injunction to stop the screening.

The corporation issued a statement to say it needed to “evaluate” new information relating to one of the cases in the programme.

Mr Mahmood had launched a last-minute challenge against a High Court judge’s refusal on Friday to grant him an injunction.

He claimed that revealing his current appearance would breach his human rights by exacerbating the existing risk to his safety caused by his investigative work and would impact upon his family life.

But, Lord Justice Elias and Lady Justice Sharp yesterday refused him permission to appeal, saying he had not shown any error in Sir David Eady’s ruling.

Despite the outcome in court, the BBC decided to show a Panorama episode investigating the disappearance of Blackpool schoolgirl Charlene Downes instead.

A BBC spokesman said last night: “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 programme, described by Mr Mahmood’s counsel – Justin Rushbrooke QC as a “hatchet job”, aims to shed light on the methods used by the reporter who exposed various personalities while working at the now defunct News of the World, using his disguise as a sheikh.

He was criticised after the collapse of the drugs trial of pop star Tulisa Contostavlos in July, when a judge said there were grounds to believe he had lied.

Mr Mahmood, who denies any wrongdoing and has not been charged, is currently suspended by The Sun and a number of cases in which he was set to be a witness have been dropped by the Crown Prosecution Service while investigations continue

The injunction he sought would have covered any images taken since April 5 2006 not already in the public domain.

His lawyers said that he lived a reclusive life in secure accommodation with 24-hour surveillance and where his neighbours did not know his real identity.

But, Manuel Barca QC, for the BBC, said that his identity was no secret and the case was not about any fears for his safety but about protecting his livelihood and the shelf life of his professional stock-in-trade.

Counsel said the public interest was self-evident, not least in the context of the Contostavlos trial.

The appeal judges agreed with Sir David that Mr Mahmood had not shown that any risk to him would be materially increased by the use of recent images, given that his identity was known and that a “welter” of pictures of him existed – albeit that some were pixillated.

Published: Tuesday 11th November 2014 by The News Editor

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