Profile: David Williams, John Stonborough and Co: A legal eagle for TV victims - David Williams moves to the other side of the fence in his new TV legal role

’I always advise my clients to tape interviews,’ John Stonborough warns his new consultant legal adviser David Williams as we prepare for a chat.

’I always advise my clients to tape interviews,’ John Stonborough

warns his new consultant legal adviser David Williams as we prepare for

a chat.



It is joke of course, part of Stonborough’s larger than life

personality.



But just as he epitomises the jovial PR man, Williams proves to be every

inch the lawyer: considered, concise and modest. A media law

practitioner for 20 years, Williams quit his job as deputy head of legal

affairs at the BBC two weeks ago.



He contacted Stonborough, the media relations expert who specialises in

tackling hostile programme makers, to learn more about his job and the

pair hit it off.



Now Williams will work for Stonborough on an ad hoc basis advising

clients who find themselves the subject of a TV or radio programme.



His brief covers a range of legal and regulatory issues from

interviewee’s rights and programme guidelines to complaints

procedures.



Williams will talk to the legal representatives of media companies in

their own language. If things get nasty he can also seek an injunction

to prevent a programme being shown.



It is a case of poacher turned gamekeeper for the 52-year-old. During

his 14 years at the BBC, Williams was called on to tackle a wide range

of the corporation’s legal and regulatory affairs. Initially he handled

contractual work and rights acquisitions mainly in the sporting

arena.



In 1991 he was involved in the BBC’s defence before the European

Commission to a complaint from the ITVA against the BBC/BSkyB/FA

agreement for coverage of Premiership football. He also advised on the

radio rights agreement for the Rugby World Cup in South Africa and was

pulled in to thrash out deals concerning boxing, motor racing, cricket,

tennis and golf.



It was during his two years at the BBC’s Programme Complaints Unit,

however, that Williams fought the battle for programme makers.



While working for the unit, which investigates complaints of serious

injustices, invasions of privacy and inaccuracies, Williams appeared

before the Broadcasting Standards Council and Broadcasting Complaints

Commission.



He also played a part in persuading the Government to renew the BBC’s

charter and licence and devised a legal roadshow for BBC producers and

editors.



Occasionally he came face to face with one of Stonborough’s clients and

Stonborough doesn’t hide his delight at having Williams, and his

contacts book, on his side this time, cheerfully describing the

arrangement as a ’coup’.



Williams is more down to earth in explaining why there is a role for

him. ’There is more pressure in broadcasting to produce exciting TV,’ he

says, explaining that this can lead programme makers to cut corners or

not ask their subjects for comments.



’Companies are becoming increasingly troubled and unhappy about their

treatment on TV,’ he adds. ’They feel they are not getting a fair crack

of the whip.



’Lots of lawyers don’t know the ins and outs of the regulatory system

and would not know how to deal with broadcasters,’ he explains. ’I can

press the right buttons.’



What do his former colleagues at the Beeb make of his move? ’I don’t

know yet,’ he says grinning. ’I’ll just have to wait and see.’



The shift to the other side of the fence should not pose too many

problems for Williams. After all he made the leap from professional

actor - playing alongside Robert Powell and Anthony Hopkins - to

barrister back in 1977.



’You dress up, play to an audience and are used to the sound of your own

voice,’ Williams jokes about the similarities between the two

professions.



Standing next to Stonborough in the damage limitation man’s W1 basement

office, the pair already look poised to fly into action the moment the

phone rings - a kind of pinstriped dynamic duo.



HIGHLIGHTS

1977

Barrister

1978

Assistant legal adviser, ATV Corporation

1990

Deputy head statutory and legal affairs, BBC

1995

Senior assistant,BBC Programme Complaints Unit

1997

Legal consultant



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