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Thursday, 6 April, 2000, 16:15 GMT 17:15 UK
BBC show broke privacy rules
Dixons shop
Watchdog filmed secretly at a Dixons store
The BBC broke privacy regulations when it secretly filmed sales transactions in a high street electrical store, the Court of Appeal has ruled.

Three judges overturned a High Court decision that only individuals - and not corporate bodies or companies - had a right to complain of invasion of privacy under the broadcasters' code of conduct.

Investigators for consumer affairs programme Watchdog had secretly filmed 12 sales transactions to check whether chain store Dixons - which had been convicted in the past of selling second-hand goods as new - had put a stop to the practice.

They found no evidence of wrong-doing and the filmed footage was not broadcast.

The BBC considers this an important case to bring with significant implications for broadcasting and journalism

BBC spokesman
But DSG Retail, owners of Dixons, complained to the Broadcasting Standards Commission (BSC) that the undercover filming was unnecessary because Dixons had a new control system in place which was preventing the misdescription of goods.

This could have been discovered without resorting to secret filming, the company argued.

The BSC, while accepting the valuable public interest role played by programmes such as Watchdog, upheld Dixons' complaint of unwarranted infringement of privacy.


That decision was reversed last July by Mr Justice Forbes in the High Court who said a company had no right to privacy, either under the 1996 Broadcasting Act or the European Convention of Human Rights, because the privacy rules were set up to protect individuals.

He also upheld the BBC's argument that there was no private element in the filming because it was carried out in places to which the public had access.

But Lord Woolf, Master of the Rolls, sitting with Lady Justice Hale and Lord Mustill, held that the rules extended to unwarranted interference with the privacy of a company.

Both the broadcasting code and the BBC's own guidelines recognised that clandestine filming without justification was regarded as objectionable, he said.

"The fact that it is secret prevents those who are being filmed from taking any action to prevent what they are doing being filmed.

BBC considering appeal

"In this case, it is reasonably clear that, if Dixons had been aware of the filming, they would have regarded it as objectionable."

The judge added that the courts should be particularly hesitant about intervening in the BSC's role, which was to set standards of acceptable conduct and not to make legally binding decisions.

A spokesman for the BBC said: "The BBC considers this an important case to bring with significant implications for broadcasting and journalism.

"We will be considering an appeal to the House of Lords."

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30 Jul 98 | Entertainment
Watchdog censured on four counts
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