Newsnight rapped for Jeremy Paxman 'misquote' interview

The BBC Trust has upheld a complaint against Newsnight for inaccurate editing, misquoting a politician and correcting the mistake in an “inappropriate tone”.

Jersey’s chief minister Frank Walker and former health minister Stuart Syvret were interviewed on 25 February last year about the murder investigation at Haut de la Garenne, the former children’s home.

The first upheld complaint referred to unfair editing of an exchange between the two politicians.

The unedited version began:

Syvret: ‘Frank, we’re talking about dead children.’

Walker: ‘Yes Stuart, exactly, so you shouldn’t be politicising it. You should be throwing your support behind the police and behind every effort to find out…”

Syvret: ‘I have. I’ve made every effort…’

Walker: ‘No, you’re trying to shaft Jersey internationally.”

But, after editing, viewers heard:

Syvret: ‘Frank, we’re talking about dead children.’

Walker: ‘Yes Stuart exactly so you shouldn’t be politicising it… You’re trying to shaft Jersey internationally.”

The editing was found by the BBC Trust’s Editorial Standards Committee to be a breach of the accuracy and impartiality guidelines.

The mistake was compounded after Paxman misquoted the edited version.

Paxman: ‘You said, ‘We’re trying to promote the international image of Jersey’.’

Walker: ‘Mr Paxman, I said no such thing.’

Paxman: ‘We just heard you say it in the radio studio.’

Walker: ‘No, Mr Paxman, you have not heard me say anything remotely approaching that in connection with this hideous and horrible situation that Jersey now finds itself in, far from it. My only interest is to support the police investigation and give them every resource…’

Paxman: ‘Mr Walker, I’ll just remind you, you obviously didn’t hear the piece. ‘We’re trying to show off Jersey internationally’ was what you said in that radio studio. The viewers heard it, perhaps you didn’t?’

Walker: ‘Mr Paxman, I said no such thing today whatsoever. What I said was we’re giving every support…’

Paxman: ‘I’m going to bring in Esther Rantzen here [a studio guest]. You presumably did hear that?”

The error – made because Paxman “misunderstood the production team via his earpiece” – was corrected when he said: “Just to clarify, the Jersey Chief Minister’s exact words were: ‘You’re trying to shaft Jersey internationally’.”

But the Editorial Standards Committee, in upholding the complaint, said: “The committee considered that the clarification had been quick, but that the tone of the correction had been inappropriate.

“The committee noted that the programme had not explained that an error had taken place but had merely corrected what was said. The committee did not feel this went far enough.”

A further complaint, that Walker was not given sufficient right of reply, was not upheld.

The Trust’s report concluded: “The chairman of the ESC would write to the deputy director-general asking him to remind programme areas of the need to ensure that when correcting serious errors a correction should be clear and precise and consideration should be given as to whether an apology is also required.

“The note would also request that programme areas should be reminded that the tone and appropriateness of the presentation of the correction are particularly important if the error concerns an individual within a programme.”

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