BBC sued by diamond mining company

A BBC television news blunder could cost license-fee payers £1m (U.S.$1.42 million) in legal fees after a diamond mining firm was falsely accused of having links to Osama bin Laden and the Al-Qaeda organization, The Sunday Times of London reported Nov 25.

Oryx Natural Resources was forced to shut down its business for three weeks after the news report wrongly identified a shareholder, Mohammed Khalfan, as a “front man for bin Laden.”

Khalfan’s name is similar to that of a terrorist convicted and jailed for the 1998 bombing of a US embassy in Africa.

The Oman-based mining company has instructed the top London law firm Mishcon de Reya to sue the BBC despite a comprehensive apology read out on the 10 O’clock News, the newspaper reported.

Oryx says Khalfan was not contacted by the BBC before the report was aired. The company has appointed accountants to assess the financial damage caused by the item reported by David Shukman, the newspaper reported.

The story was picked up by networks in America, Europe, and Africa. Production at the company’s Congo mine was stopped by government authorities, and credit lines and orders were canceled.

Oryx, in court documents, claims demand “dropped significantly,.” The newspaper reported. Oryx is looking to produce 10% of the world’s diamonds and has courted controversy in the past through its links with Zimbabwe’s president, Robert Mugabe.

James Libson, a solicitor with Mishcon de Reya, told The Times the only attempt to contact the company had been one e-mail sent on the day of broadcast to a director working in America. The time difference meant there was no time to reply. “Oryx’s case is very strong. From what we’ve seen of the BBC defense so far we don’t think it’s going to be sufficient,” said Libson.

The BBC, which confirmed Oryx was seeking damages of £1m, intends to plead a defense of qualified privilege, contending it was acting responsibly and in the public interest, the newspaper reported. Such a defense involves consideration of the steps the BBC took to verify information and the extent to which its journalists tried to obtain comment from Oryx.