April 5, 2013

BBC suspends producer after ‘bribe’ allegation

A member of the BBC Panorama production team, which had been working on an episode looking into the activities of resort developer Harlequin has been suspended.{{more}}

On March 28, the Guardian reported that Matthew Chapman, the producer of the show, which was billed as “The Great Savings Wipe Out,” had been suspended after allegations that a security consultant was offered a bribe for information.

According to the Guardian, a decision was taken to pull the programme, which was supposed to have been broadcast on March 25, following a complaint made by Harlequin.

A BBC spokeswoman told SEARCHLIGHT yesterday that “In light of information received late in the production process of this film, the BBC decided to postpone broadcast. We are currently reviewing the facts. As a result a member of the team has been suspended and a disciplinary procedure is under way.”

The Guardian said a spokesman for Harlequin confirmed that Sean Ghent, a consultant to Harlequin, had received an email which suggested that Harlequin may go out of business soon and that he may get work with the BBC1 current affairs programme. The spokesman said the message came from a BBC email address.

The Times reported that the email allegedly said: “I was wondering if I could be a bit cheeky here. It’s unlikely that Ames [Harlequin’s chairman David Ames] and maybe Harlequin will be around for much longer, nor will he have the money to pay people for much longer. Panorama and the BBC is always using security protection officers and although I cannot guarantee anything we may be able to put things your way. How would you feel helping me out in a totally confidential way?”

Ghent is reported to have told the Times that he was shocked by the person’s approach to him via business network LinkedIn on March 13.

“He was suggesting my job might disappear,” he said. “It seemed to me he was trying to offer me an enticement.”

In a letter to the BBC’s litigation department, Harlequin said: “On any sensible interpretation, the message to Mr Ghent is simply staggering. It appears to constitute a flagrant and in our view highly improper attempt by [the journalist] to induce Mr Ghent into disclosing information about Harlequin in return for the potential reward of future work from the BBC. In short, it appears to be tantamount to an attempted bribe.”

Reporters from Panorama visited St Vincent in February, while gathering information for their programme. On February 17, the reporters had an encounter on a LIAT flight with Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves during which they asked him about bribery allegations involving David Ames, chairman of Harlequin.

Gonsalves subsequently answered, in writing, nine questions submitted to him by Chapman, on behalf of Panorama.