Magazine article The Spectator

The Spectator's Notes

Magazine article The Spectator

The Spectator's Notes

Article excerpt

When you are invited on to programmes like the BBC's Question Time, the idea is that you express your opinions. So that is what I did when I last appeared on Question Time, on 12 March. In the wake of the Luton Islamists who insulted the British troops parading through the town, I made some unfavourable comments about the attitude of the Muslim Council of Britain to British troops serving in Muslim countries.

There is always an hour's pause between the recording of Question Time and its broadcast, partly intended so that the programme can be checked for libel. (I know this, because I once had to fight, successfully, for the BBC lawyers to keep in some things I had said on the programme about Martin McGuinness. ) On this occasion, no one at the BBC raised any legal or other objection to anything I had said, and the broadcast went out. A few days later, the BBC informed me that they had had a solicitor's letter on behalf of Mohammed Abdul Bari, the secretarygeneral of the Muslim Council of Britain.

Although the letter exclusively concerned my own words, the BBC would not show it to me. I supplied them with background information relevant to what I had said on air, but this does not seem to have been pursued. The BBC went dead. Then, last Friday, on holiday in Italy, I got a call from the Daily Mail, who told me that the BBC had offered an apology for my remarks to Dr Bari and £30,000. I decided to refuse the Mail's invitation to comment, because I felt in a legal limbo, and had been told nothing whatever by the BBC. That remains the case as I write, and, when telephoned, the BBC legal advisers refused to provide any further information. But now the whole thing has gone public, so I don't see why I should be silent. A spokesman for the Corporation says on its website: 'On occasions, this [the format of Question Time] results in unfairness to individuals who aren't there to put their view and this is one of those occasions.' Actually, I mentioned no individuals in what I said, so the only individual concerned whose view the BBC has not sought is me. It has taken upon itself to apologise for a libel which it thinks I committed. Has it thereby libelled me? I promise that if it pays me £30,000, I shall say no more about it.

But I shall still keep my television, while refusing to renew my licence so long as it retains the services of Jonathan Ross.

One of the things we are learning from the great MPs' expenses scandal is that every institution funded by the taxpayer must account publicly for how much it spends and why. Ross is said to be paid £6 million a year, but the BBC has refused to confirm this figure, or to explain why it, or anything like it, is suitable recompense for a man who rings up a septuagenarian to leave and broadcast obscene messages about his granddaughter's sex life. It owes us all an explanation, and I do not believe that I owe it £142.50. The money will go instead to Help the Aged.

One notices that the BBC is interestingly reluctant to take up the details of accusations in the Daily Telegraph, particularly those against ministers. It has been virtually silent on the story that ministers charged their professional personal tax advice to the taxpayer. I wonder what sort of thing goes on BBC expenses?

One of Gordon Brown's defects is that he does not defend his colleagues properly. …

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