Thursday 16 September 2010

The Ray Gosling saga raises serious questions about both governance and ethics at the BBC

When former television journalist Ray Gosling confessed on BBC’s Inside Out programme on 15 February that he had taken a pillow and smothered a gay lover with AIDS who was in ‘terrible, terrible pain’ it very quickly became an international phenomenon.

Pro-euthanasia groups, such as Dignity in Dying, not surprisingly jumped on the bandwagon to further their cause claiming that the case provided further grounds for a change in the law.

It has now transpired, after a police investigation involving 32 officers, lasting six months and taking 1,800 hours at a cost of over £45,000 in taxpayers money, that Goslings’ ‘confession’ was simply made up. He did not kill his lover and in fact was not even in the country at the time he died. Furthermore the man did not die in pain.

Gosling has now been given a 90-day suspended prison sentence at Nottingham Magistrates' Court after pleading guilty to wasting police time. The judge in passing sentence has branded him as ‘a sheer liar and fantasist’ guilty of ‘creating and maintaining this cruel fabrication’.

It was very clear at the time the story broke that the BBC intended it to have maximum impact. The Care Not Killing Alliance (CNK) started getting media calls hours before the programme was originally broadcast regarding a ‘new euthanasia story’ involving a ‘prominent BBC employee’ but we were not allowed to know any of the details. Meanwhile every regional and national BBC news outlet was lining up interviews for the ensuing 24 hours.

We now learn that Gosling had made his original confession to BBC colleagues four months earlier over a ‘beery lunch’. And the programme itself was filmed some months before it was shown and eventually screened just one week before the Director of Public Prosecutions published his prosecution policy for cases of assisted suicide. Why did the BBC not inform the police during this time or more carefully investigate what was effectively a confession of murder? How many BBC employees actually knew about it? Was this actually a cynical attempt to influence public and judicial opinion at a critical point in time?

In the days that followed the screening, as well as giving a spate of national and regional broadcasts in the UK (including Five Live and BBC breakfast), I was interviewed by a host of international outlets covering the story – including Italian and Spanish newspaper journalists, Russian, Bolivian, Brazilian and Indian television and the BBC world service. The international interest was huge.

The very same week, both the Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph carried the story of Lord Carlile, CNK Chairman, writing to the BBC Director General to allege media bias and to accuse the corporation of adopting an ‘incredibly zealous’ ‘campaigning stance’ on assisted suicide.

The whole Gosling saga raises serious questions about both governance and ethics at the BBC.

I do hope that the BBC board will be carrying out a careful investigation to see whether its guidelines relating to fair and impartial broadcasting have been breached in this matter. Furthermore, I trust also that the corporation will take more care in future to check its facts and be more transparent with the police rather than being a party to the sensational proliferation of partisan propaganda or, in this case, downright lies.


  1. Excellent comment, Peter. It's long seemed to me that the BBC's bias on euthanasia-related stories consists not so much in the balance of comment but in the imbalance of the actual stories they run. How often do they run stories about those who choose not to commit suicide or ask for help to do it? There are plenty of them out there as George Pitcher's 'A Time to Live' shows. There's immense power in story.

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