The BBC has denied claims that Mira Markovic, the wife of former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic, walked out of an interview with HARDtalk’s Tim Sebastian.
Despite news agency reports that Markovic – known in Belgrade as "the red witch" – walked out before the end of the interview, the BBC said Sebastian concluded the interview after 50 minutes when she told him she would "only answer the questions I want to answer".
HARDtalk producer Ali Willis said: "Tim decided that he would finish the interview where he wanted to finish it. I don’t think she said anything new in the interview, but it was a fascinating insight into her psychology." The interview, filmed last week in her party headquarters, was broadcast on BBC News 24 and BBC World. Milosevic was able to watch the interview from his cell in The Hague, where he awaits trial for genocide and crimes against humanity.
"We expect that she will have something to say about the interview, partly because we kept the camera on her while Tim was asking her about allegations of genocide," said Willis. "As he was asking the question, Markovic was fixing her hair."
While the BBC crew did not expect her to be concerned that her seeming disregard for the murders which took place under her husband’s regime was shown on air, they were expecting further criticism about the programme’s apparent lack of respect for Yugoslavia’s former first lady.
"She frequently told Tim that he was being unchivalrous and ungentlemanly," said Willis. "We got the strong impression that she was not accustomed to being questioned in any way.
"But Tim was determined not to be soft on her. There was no love lost between them and the tension was palpable." But he said it was "obvious" she had wanted to do the interview.
"Although she has done newspaper interviews, I think she had been terrified of giving an interview in a documentary which could show footage of atrocities alongside her denials that Slobodan had been involved."
By Julie Tomlin