Tower Hamlets spent £120k on lawyers and PR over Panorama on Mayor
PUBLISHED: 15:06 04 September 2014 | UPDATED: 17:19 04 September 2014
Tower Hamlets Council spent more than £120,000 on lawyers and public relations over a BBC documentary about the Mayor's record in office.
Tower Hamlets Council spent more than £120,000 on lawyers and public relations over a BBC documentary about the Mayor’s record in office.
Trial by Jeory blogger Ted Jeory this week revealed the cost of legal and publicity advice from city law firm Taylor Wessing and PR company Champillion, among others, to the council over BBC Panorama’s The Mayor and Your Money programme, which was broadcast in March ahead of the in the May election.
Invoices to the council obtained by Mr Jeory thanks to the Audit Commission Act, along with the council’s yearly accounts, show that the council spent nearly £82,000 on legal advice and £41,000 on PR advice for the programme.
The BBC documentary accused Mayor Lutfur Rahman of using public money to buy votes and influence by favouring Bangladeshi charities - a charge he has denied and called racist.
A Tower Hamlets Council spokesman said: “As the programme was due to air before the mayoral election, we needed to communicate our concerns to the BBC to ensure balanced coverage.
“There was no in-house legal experience or capacity to deal with issues of journalistic standards and editorial compliance, so suitably experienced external legal firms were approached to pitch for the work.”
He said Taylor Wessing was chosen “based on their experience of tackling investigative reporting and regulatory compliance by the BBC” and the corporation’s decision-making processes.
The spokesman added that the legal firm was called in to handle concerns raised by a Panorama researcher who leaked a dossier of data to the mayor about the programme - an act which is being investigated by the Information Commissioner’s Office to see if it broke Data Protection law.
The Advertiser recently revealed that Mayor Rahman wrote to the BBC director general on the eve of broadcast “urging” him to pull the programme from the TV schedule.
It went ahead, and a government-backed audit was quickly launched into allegations of council “financial mismanagement and fraud” by local government secretary Eric Pickles.
The council says the reach of the audit is too broad and will waste £1million of taxpayers’ money, but lost a judicial review into the matter at the High Court in July.