Newsnight and This Morning to be investigated over McAlpine claims

Ofcom to see whether programmes breached broadcasting rules by failing to provide former Tory treasurer a right of reply

The BBC's Newsnight and ITV's This Morning are to be investigated by the broadcasting regulator to see whether the two programmes breached broadcasting rules by failing to provide Lord McAlpine a right of reply against allegations incorrectly linking the former Conservative party treasurer to allegations of child abuse.

The investigation will also examine whether Phillip Schofield, the presenter of This Morning, behaved in keeping with the broadcasting code when he handed David Cameron a list of politicians allegedly connected with unproven allegations of abuse that he researched in "three minutes" on "the internet".

Tony Close, Ofcom's director of standards, confirmed the Newsnight and This Morning investigations in a letter written to Conservative MP Rob Wilson, saying the regulator will examine whether the BBC broke the rules by "failing to provide the individual against who allegations of child abuse were made in the Newsnight programme an appropriate and timely opportunity to respond".

Ofcom also said that Ed Richards, its chief executive, would not be formally recusing himself from any decisions regarding Newsnight - despite speculation that the regulator could again become a candidate for the vacant BBC director generalship. In May, Ofcom said that it had put in place procedures to avoid "any potential conflict of interest" when it was clear he was a candidate for the job the last time there was a vacancy.

The regulator added that, in any event, decisions on TV and radio standards cases are made by other officials - Tony Close, its director of standards or its group director for content, Christopher Wolard. Ofcom has 415 complaints about Philip Schofield's conduct in handing the Cameron the list of names and four complaints about Newsnight.

On Friday 2 November, Newsnight broadcast a film which linked an unnamed "senior Conservative" to allegations of child abuse in north Wales care homes in the 1970s. The film was based on an interview given by a victim, Steve Messham, but a week later it emerged he had mistakenly identified McAlpine – setting in motion a chain of events that led to a BBC apology and the resignation of its director general, George Entwistle.

Close said Ofcom will investigate whether ITV was in breach of the rules by "failing to provide an opportunity to respond to the individuals whose names were disclosed by Phillip Schofield".

The ITV presenter handed the prime minister a list of Conservative politicians he did not name live on air on Thursday of last week – but some of the names were visible to people who paused the picture on a good quality broadcast feed.

Ofcom's broadcasting code, section 7.11 states: "If a programme alleges wrongdoing or incompetence or makes other significant allegations, those concerned should normally be given an appropriate and timely opportunity to respond."

Broadcasters are penalised through fines, which can sometimes run into six or even seven figures, depending on the severity of the offence.

How will Ofcom deal with Newsnight and This Morning over false child abuse claims?

The Guardian's head of media Dan Sabbagh gives his reaction on Thursday to Ofcom's investigation into the BBC's Newsnight and ITV's This Morning

• To contact the MediaGuardian news desk email or phone 020 3353 3857. For all other inquiries please call the main Guardian switchboard on 020 3353 2000. If you are writing a comment for publication, please mark clearly "for publication".

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Dan Sabbagh

The GuardianTramp

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