UK

BBC's Behaviour Over Cliff Richard 'Like A Tabloid', Sir Michael Parkinson Says

18/08/2014 17:25 BST | Updated 18/08/2014 17:59 BST

The BBC behaved like a tabloid in its "witch hunt" reporting of the police search of a home owned by Sir Cliff Richard, according to one of its best known former journalists.

In the latest stage of the war between the BBC, the rest of the media and the police over who knew what and when about the raiding of Sir Cliff's Berkshire home, Sir Michael Parkinson said the broadcaster was wrong to name the entertainer, and behaved in a way that "would have done the (tabloids) credit".

Sir Cliff's penthouse was raided while the entertainer was on holiday as part of an investigation into an alleged sexual assault on a boy under the age of 16 at a religious event in 1985.

The BBC was accused of breaching its own standards after it learned the raid was due to take place before it happened and worked with police to coordinate its coverage.

Politicians lined up to criticise the force's decision to tell the BBC the date of the raid.

cliff richard

The BBC outside Sir Cliff's Berkshire flat that was raided

It forced South Yorkshire Police, which searched the home, to deny it had "leaked" the broadcaster information. South Yorkshire Police also claimed it felt it had to co-operate when a journalist contacted them weeks earlier saying he knew about the raid. Shaun Wright, the force's police and crime commissioner, said this had put them in a "difficult position".

The broadcaster has said the police were not the original source of its information for the story.

Parkinson, who started out as a newspaper reporter, told ITV News: "I think anybody not charged should not be named by the police, and shouldn't be reported in the newspapers either in my view.

"I think the Cliff Richard case only highlights the feeling there is some kind of witch hunt going on.

"I think the BBC did create an error in judgment, not in understanding the story and having the story and trying to follow it through, but in reacting to the story in a kind of way that would have done the red tops credit.

"That's what wrong with the BBC, I think, on this one. It was the manner in which they chose to actually cover the event – if you can call it an event.

"I think there is a lot to be looked at and a lot to be learned from all that's been happening around that particular kind of area."

He said: "It's not right. Particularly at that point, he was not charged with anything.

"I just feel that they should tread more softly and we should be more considerate of everybody's feelings and claims and rights in this.

"We should pursue people, of course, who have done wrong. That is indisputably the police's job."

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Sir Cliff Richard's Property Searched By Police

South Yorkshire Police have even written the Director-General Lord Hall, saying the BBC breached its own editorial guidelines.

On the Radio 4 Today programme this morning, media pundit Steve Hewlett said he did not understand what the police were complaining about.

Hewlett, who himself works for the BBC presenting The Media Show on Radio 4, said: "The police were willing participants in the deal they did with the BBC to give them all this access, not just notice (of the raid) but a senior officer doing an exclusive interview (with the BBC).

"So, the police are willing participants in this, though, since there's been a rumpus, they have been trying to row back. They have complained to the BBC but, goodness knows what about."

One journalist defended the BBC and said the Daily Mail's enthusiasm for reporting the controversy reflected their anger at having been scooped on the raid in the first place.

Sir Cliff has said the allegations against him are "completely false".

Parkinson's comments are not the first time the corporation's journalism has been compared with that of tabloids.

In June, Business Editor and household name Robert Peston said it had become "obsessed" with the right-wing news agenda set by other papers, in particular the Daily Mail.

He said: "There's a slightly 'safety first' thing at the BBC - that if we think the Mail or the Telegraph is gonna lead with it, then we should lead with it," he said. "I happen to think that's mad."