Taste and decency
Nipple clamps, group sex and swingers' clubs. Grist to the tabloids' mill perhaps, but the BBC?
Covering Tommy Sheridan's defamation action against the News of the World was always going to be a challenge in terms of taste and decency.
The Scottish Socialist MSP is fighting a series of claims made in the newspaper about his sex life. Allegations that he denies but the paper contends are "substantially true".
The first question, given the likely content of the evidence - should we be covering the court proceedings at all? Tommy Sheridan is arguably one of only a few Members of the Scottish Parliament who people in the street would recognise. His high profile stems from his career in challenging the establishment. He was jailed for his actions in fighting the poll tax and taking part in blockades at Faslane nuclear submarine base. He was the founder member of the Scottish Socialist Party, and as leader, raised its profile to such an extent in the first term of the Scottish Parliament that the party picked up five additional seats in the 2003 elections.
Eighteen months ago his resignation from the leadership topped the news. So, a major character in Scottish politics, and as an editor a case I think we should be covering. Having made that decision, how much detail should we broadcast? Radio literally has a captive audience of children. Strapped in the backseat of a car, kids are tuned into whatever their parents are listening to.
As a parent I'm aware of the kind of questions that are asked. And a ten year old probably isn't going to buy the line "Mr Sheridan was just having a sleepover". But as a broadcaster it is the BBC's legal and editorial duty to report a case both fairly and accurately, both from a defamation and contempt point of view. "Enough" pled one text to the programme, but leaving out large chunks of evidence could leave us in legal difficulties.
That's not to say every detail is picked over. In practical terms, radio just hasn't got the time to go into the minutiae in the same way as newspapers. I did make the decision not to broadcast the word "b****rd" when a witness swore at an advocate during the case. Why? It wasn't part of the evidence and so I thought it could be left out. The word has however been used in the programme before (John Major's outburst of frustration over eurosceptics, for example). But every story throws up different challenges and every decision can be challenged. That's what being an editor is about.
And we did decide not to use the nipple clamps.