Government and BBC set for court battle over spy story injunction

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The Government and the BBC are set for a court battle over a story the broadcaster wants to air which would reportedly identify a spy.

The Telegraph has reported that the programme would reveal the identity of the intelligence worker operating overseas, and it is understood to be a highly sensitive case.

The BBC insists the news story is “overwhelmingly in the public interest,” however, the Government will claim in court that the BBC report, should it be broadcast, presents “a risk to people’s lives.”

Neither party would say what the content of the report is, but both have confirmed the Government was seeking an injunction and it revolves around a highly sensitive case, understood to concern British intelligence activities overseas.

A source told the Telegraph there would be huge disquiet should the BBC news broadcast go ahead. The source said:

“It is really serious – there are serious risks. The programme would be a massive compromise for our security.”

Identifying the spy concerned would have “very serious consequences for the BBC” and would be “a risk to people’s lives”, the source said, adding:

“These people are doing very, very difficult jobs in incredible circumstances. They are risking their lives. This is not James Bond – these are real people.”

The Attorney General’s Office said in a statement:

“The Attorney General has made an application against the BBC.

“It would be inappropriate to comment further while proceedings are ongoing.”

The Telegraph reported a High Court hearing would take place on Thursday.

A BBC spokesman said:

“The Attorney General has issued proceedings against the BBC with a view to obtaining an injunction to prevent publication of a proposed BBC news story.

“We are unable to comment further at this stage, beyond confirming that we would not pursue any story unless it was felt it was overwhelmingly in the public interest to do so and fully in line with the BBC’s editorial standards and values.” 

The legal row has emerged against a backdrop of tensions between the Government and the BBC, with Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries freezing the licence fee for the next two years.

Ms Dorries said on Sunday the next announcement about the fee “will be the last”, indicating a different funding model could be introduced from 2028.

She later announced the licence fee is to be frozen at £159 until 2024, after which it will rise in line with inflation for the following four years.

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