Channel 4 has overhauled its legal team with a number of new roles, promoting its head of legal and compliance Prash Naik to the new position of general counsel.
Naik, who celebrates his 20th year at the broadcaster this year, has taken on the general counsel position following a number of internal changes.
These include the introduction of a controller of business affairs position, which BBC’s former head of legal, commercial and business affairs John Moran took up earlier this week.
Naik will now report to Ch4’s head of commercial affairs Martin Baker as well as the broadcaster’s chief executive, David Abrahams, and chairman, Lord Burns, in relation to legal matters in programme content.
He has already secured the broadcast of a number of high-profile shows during his time at Ch4, including Plane Crash, which crashed a Boeing 727 to study the effect on test dummies, and Drugs Live, which tested 25 volunteers after they took the class A drug MDMA (29 July 2013).
Naik also read the first pilot script for what became the popular teen series The Inbetweeners. “Over time the producers [of The Inbetweeners] continued to push the boundaries of taste,” he told The Lawyer in a previous interview. “And we’re here to help them do that.”
The move also means the broadcaster’s head of legal for governance, regulatory and trading, Rebecca Miller, will now report to Naik. The general counsel position will see Naik now take control of the broadcaster’s corporate legal team alongside his existing responsibility of legal and compliance chief.
The overhaul is not thought to change the broadcaster’s current external legal advisers.
“We specifically do not use large firms, partly because big firms tend to act for a lot of the companies we investigate, they can be unimaginative in litigation and their costs are prohibitive,” Naik previously told The Lawyer. “It’s always about the individual lawyer and not the firm or brand they worked for.”
For media advice the in-house team uses a group of West End lawyers. For libel this includes Wiggin consultant Amali De Silva and Aslan Kousetta Charles name partner Susan Aslan, who is ex-Olswang, while Simons Muirhead & Burton partner Louis Charalambous and Burton Copeland partners Paul Morris and Ellen Peart advise on criminal matters.
Prash Naik discusses the legal challenges facing Channel 4
“Channel 4’s investigative journalism is the most challenging and demanding of our work. Our flagship current affairs series Dispatches produces a significant amount of our work is involved in getting these programmes to air and defending them after broadcast.
“One of our most recent high-profile investigations was a collaboration with The Guardian – Dispatches: The Police’s Dirty Secret. It featured the former undercover police officer and whistleblower Peter Francis and his work for the now disbanded Special Demonstration Unit. In the programme he alleged that the unit was tasked with gathering information to undermine the Stephen Lawrence campaign which was set up to bring Lawrence’s murderers to justice. His allegations range from the unit using the identities of dead children, to officers engaged in sexual relationships with activists.
“We are now involved in a threat by East Midlands Police which wants our producers to hand over all our journalistic material concerning those revelations. It is seeking a production order against the producers ITN, under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act. The threat of an order is framed around potential offences under the Official Secrets Act and misconduct in public office by Francis. On the face of it seems to be a rather heavy-handed attempt to shoot the messenger.
“Both Channel 4 and ITN consider the protection of our whistleblowers and sources to be sacrosanct and we robustly defend all legal challenges given the fundamental role that such individuals play in our public interest journalism.”
Read All 4 One for a full interview with Ch4’s legal team.