BBC stands by decision on Mandelson apology

The BBC has stood by its decision not to broadcast an apology to Peter Mandelson for wrongly alleging in a Panorama programme that he had lied over his involvement in the Hindujas affair.

The BBC has already issued an apology to the former Northern Ireland Secretary after he complained that the 4 March programme wrongly alleged that he had been briefed on links between the Hinduja brothers and the Bofors arms scandal as early as June 1998.

The programme used extracts of an interview with the BBC’s political editor, Andrew Marr, to imply that Mandelson had answered untruthfully when asked if had been briefed before SP Hinduja’s successful passport application in October 1998.

After publication of the Hammond Report investigating the affair, the BBC admitted that the Panorama team had been unable to show that Mandelson had been briefed earlier.

"Accepting Mr Mandelson’s explanation of the meaning to his answer to Mr Marr, there was therefore not a sound basis for the implication that it conflicted with information discovered by the programme," the BBC complaints unit said.

But the head of programme complaints rejected a call for a broadcast correction, despite an appeal by the MP. The decision was detailed in the BBC’s quarterly complaints bulletin, which shows that in the three months to 31 March, 300 complaints were dealt with by the complaints unit, a quarter of which were made about news and current affairs programmes.

Two Newsnight programmes were also criticised for their coverage of the controversy surrounding Mandelson’s resignation. The first, which went out on the night of his resignation, received complaints from 10 people, including MPs Sir John Stanley and Nicholas Winterton, who said it failed to reflect the views of the opposition parties.

A studio discussion involving only Labour members was particularly criticised.

The unit accepted the Newsnight team’s argument that the all-Labour panel was best placed to discuss "a defining event in the history of new Labour".

But it concluded that a broad range of speakers would have been better to tackle the wider issues.

A Newsnight item on 9 February about Mandelson’s return to his constituency also sparked criticism after a reporter asked him: "Will you be telling any lies today, Mr Mandelson?"

The unit said that as the report was in the style of a political sketch, the reporter’s "irreverent" approach was "generally appropriate to this", but concluded that the questions which prompted the complaints "went beyond acceptable limits".

By Julie Tomlin

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