BBC upholds complaint about role of Jesuit

Prior to broadcasting the repeat of the BBC series Elizabeth I’s Secret Agents, the BBC has re-edited two of the episodes following a complaint about misleading statements about a Jesuit priest. 

The series tells the story of how Elizabeth I’s spymasters kept ahead of plots to overthrow her, and later her successor James I. The Jesuit priest Fr John Gerard, famous for his daring escape from the Tower of London in 1597, features heavily in episode 2 and especially in episode 3.

The original programmes strongly and erroneously suggested that John Gerard SJ had advanced knowledge of the Gunpowder Plot (1605), supported and blessed the plot and may even have played a leading role in devising it.  There is in fact no evidence to support this interpretation, and some evidence that Gerard could not have known of the plot.

Michael Maslinski, (10 greats nephew of John Gerard) tackled the BBC about their interpretation of Fr Gerard’s role.  The BBC Complaints Unit has graciously apologised for the “breach in editorial standards” in the programmes originally aired last autumn.  They have admitted that the programmes were seriously misleading over John Gerard’s role in the Gunpowder Plot.  The repeat versions have now been edited to correct this lack of balance and an apology will be published in due course on the BBC website complaints page.

Michael Maslinski is delighted by the response from the BBC:  “John Gerard is has been revered in my family for four hundred years and I was deeply shocked that the series clearly implicated him in Gunpowder Plot, without any supporting evidence. As a priest, he certainly knew some of the plotters, but there is strong evidence that he knew nothing of the plot itself. I am very grateful to the BBC for upholding my complaint and for editing episodes 2 and 3 to give a more balanced account.”

Episode 2 is to be shown next Wednesday (3rd May) at 9 pm on BBC4 and episode 3 the following Wednesday at the same time.