BBC finds new way to admit bias: Paxman guilty of “over-compression”
I don’t know which is more entertaining: Jeremy Paxman making fun of the BBC bureaucrats who tell him off; or the BBC bureaucrats’ long-drawn-out contortions as they try to pretend that Paxo is just having a jolly impartial jape.
My friend Stan Rosenthal complained four months ago about Paxman – in the Daily Mail – describing Tony Blair as “the multimillionaire messiah”. (I wrote about it at the time.) Now Stephen Mitchell, Deputy Director and Head of Programmes, BBC News, has written to him saying:
The reference to “messiah” was perhaps an over-compression – a somewhat oblique way of referring to the Tony Blair Faith Foundation – and I think that, taken in isolation, it would have been better not to have used that one word. But the emphasis of the paragraph as a whole was on different times, different fortunes and I do not think that the inference you have drawn – that Jeremy Paxman was calling the former Prime Minister a “hypocrite” – is the meaning that would have been taken by the average reader. Even if the phrasing was less than ideal, this does not amount to a serious breach of standards.
Rosenthal had initially had a reply to his complaint after a mere three months, accompanied by a flurry of apologies for the BBC missing its targets for responding to such things:
The reference was very much in keeping with Jeremy Paxman’s trenchant and humorous style. We are sorry if you found the word “messiah” offensive and open to misinterpretation but it was meant as a joke. We would point out that no-one else has complained or even raised it as an issue as far as we are aware so we believe that most people would have taken it in that spirit. Clearly the teasing reference did not work for you but we do not think there was any suggestion of hypocrisy, as you suggest.
With regard to the authorisation of the article, it followed and elaborated on remarks Jeremy had made in an in interview organised and sanctioned by the BBC as part of the publicity around his “Empire” project. We do not believe that Jeremy Paxman has broken any Editorial Guidelines.
Unsurprisingly, Rosenthal pursued the complaint further and has now secured the weaselly half-apology from Mitchell. Mitchell at least had the decency to quote the Editorial Guidelines, so that everyone could see that Paxman had indeed broken them (but not, of course, “a serious breach”):
15.4.2 Regular BBC news presenters should not undertake promotions, endorsements or advertisements for any company, outside organisation or political party. In exceptional circumstances, with the prior approval of the BBC, they may undertake promotional activities for books which they have written. Any such activity must not jeopardise a presenter’s reputation for objectivity and impartiality.
Mitchell went on:
The key test has to be whether what he [Paxman] wrote would be acceptable if he said the same things on air … To this end, it is important to see the phrase, “multimillionaire messiah” in its context. This is the paragraph:
“Our parents had Clement Attlee, perhaps the greatest Prime Minister of the 20th century, who died leaving an estate worth £7,000. We have Tony Blair, the multimillionaire messiah.”
In my view, the phrase “multi-millionaire messiah” is in keeping with the sometimes acerbic and humorous style that many viewers appreciate – though clearly his style doesn’t work for you. Jeremy Paxman was ruefully contrasting the fortunes of the two prime ministers and any sarcasm in the piece was generally directed at baby-boomers and the nature of our times. I do not agree that he was suggesting that Tony Blair was a hypocrite or delusional.
Wonderful. Comparing Attlee, “perhaps the greatest Prime Minister of the 20th century”, with Blair, “er, not”, was merely “ruefully contrasting the fortunes of the two” and in no way jeopardising the presenter’s reputation for impartiality. (Mitchell obviously hopes that hiding behind the modern secular myth of the sainted Attlee will save him, and Paxman. But Paxman’s historical knowledge does not inspire confidence.)
Another friend, Blair Supporter, has also commented on this Alice in Wonderland reasoning.Tagged in: ban blair baiting, bbc bias, blair rage, jeremy paxman, tony blair
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