BBC Asian Network breathes huge sigh of relief after head of News is found not-guilty in trial
By Barfi Culture Team
23rd January 2019

The BBC Asian Network is breathing a huge sigh of relief after its head of News was found not-guilty after a two day trial at Sheffield Magistrates' Court that ended on Friday afternoon.

Arif Ansari was accused of breaching the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 1992, for naming a victim at a sexual abuse case in a live radio broadcast. He maintained it was an innocent mistake and the judge agreed.

But the trial has left the national digital radio station reeling and potentially ended the career of one of its star reporters.

For this article, Barfi Culture spoke to a few ex- and current Asian Network employees and more than one said the trial also raised questions about management competence at the station.

How the mistake unfolded

In February 2018, Asian Network sent its reporter Rickin Majithia to cover a case of a taxi driver accused of raping a teenager in Rotherham several years ago. It was a high profile case.

In court, Majithia said he was sent late at night and his boss knew he was suffering from work stress. It was also the first court case he had ever covered. He sent a report to Arif Ansari and, in the copy, mistakenly included the real name of the victim even though the law requires that pseudonyms be used instead.

Arif Ansari did not spot the mistake and read out her real name live on air. Both assumed the name they had used was a pseudonym.

The victim told the court: "At this point I went into full meltdown – panicking and crying – and I didn’t hear anything else that was said." She said she feared for her life and the news report made her feel sick.

Rickin Majithia accepted he made a huge mistake and tried to rectify his blunder as soon as he realised it. "I was horrified and I am horrified. It’s something I will regret until the day I die," he said in court. The judge accepted he was a "diligent journalist who's made a mistake" and said he had not been charged with anything.

In his defence, Arif Ansari told the court: "[Rickin Majithia] had a background, professional relationship with the victim in question. I didn’t. I had never met her. I was in London," he told the court.

"Furthermore, I knew that he knew that he could not name her, use her real name. Put all these factors together, it did not occur to me that this could be wrong."

"I trusted my reporter and the reason I sent him to Sheffield was to make sure he got it right."

Statements after the trial

In a statement after the trial, Rickin Majithia said: "​I had previously reported on how much they had suffered at the hands of a grooming gang. It pains me to know that this mistake has caused further hurt."

He added: "​The mistake happened without malice or intent. Nevertheless, it should not have happened at all. I was relieved of my reporting duties within days of the mistake. I have also suffered from significant health difficulties as a result of this incident. I am truly sorry for what happened and will remain so for the rest of my life."

A BBC spokesperson told Barfi Culture: "We are relieved with the court’s decision last Friday."

"From the start we have accepted that mistakenly naming a victim of sexual abuse during a live broadcast last February was a serious mistake. We apologised directly to the individual concerned and to the court, and we reiterated that again last week."

"The CPS had a choice to charge the BBC and or the editor. We firmly believe that it should have been the BBC itself answering in court for this mistake, rather than the individual editor. As we have said previously, we are concerned that the approach taken by the CPS risks creating a climate of fear for editors seeking to cover the courts in the public interest. Both our editor and our reporter continue to have our full support."

What happens now?

Unsurprisingly, BBC employees did not want to go on the record to discuss this case. But more than one ex- and current employees we spoke to said the case also pointed to deeper problems at the station.

For Asian Network employees, it has also been frustrating to see their radio station make headline for all the wrong reasons.

Several employees said the news team had lacked direction and bite for years. It was "too cautious" under its previous editor said one senior ex-employee, and several said editors were known for turning down stories deemed controversial.

Rickin Majithia was immediately relieved of his duties at the Asian Network. He has told friends he thinks his career as a journalist is over. We contacted Rickin for comment but he referred us to his statement.

With his name now cleared, Arif Ansari's job at Asian Network is secure. But a veteran BBC journalist told Barfi Culture they wouldn't be surprised if he was transferred out of the position once the limelight had shifted.

One veteran journalist, who didn't want to comment on the case but knew both men, said: "No one comes out looking good out of this."

For now BBC editors may be breathing a sigh of relief. But there are deeper issues to be resolved.

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