The BBC and Jeremy Paxman should tell Downing Street where to goPosted: November 12, 2013
This article originally appeared on the Telegraph online, November 12, 2012
As part of the Coalition’s on-going war on the press, a furious No10 demanded an apology from the BBC yesterday, and not just any old apology, but “a full and public apology”.
Tory MP Rob Wilson, a Downing Street aide, wrote to the BBC’s Director General Lord Hall demanding the apology after BBC’s veteran Newsnight presenter, Jeremy Paxman, claimed that David Cameron had likened the commemorations to last year’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations, during an interview with Graham Norton. Wilson said that Paxman must “make it clear to BBC viewers and license fee payers that his remarks were inaccurate and ill-founded”.
Paxman stated that he was “troubled” by the Prime Minister talking about how millions of pounds were going to be spent marking this anniversary, and said that Cameron had “compared it with the celebrations for the Diamond Jubilee’. He added: “People get the idea that somehow this is going to be celebrated. Well, only a complete idiot would celebrate such a calamity. Three quarters of a million men never came back to this country. Millions of men served. Millions of men were wounded mentally and physically. No one would celebrate that. It was just Cameron’s clumsy use of language.”
This demand for an apology has occurred only a week after the Conservative Party chairman, Grant Shapps, called for the BBC’s funding to be cut if it did not clean up its act.
Whether you believe the BBC is biased or not (and I’m sure many of you reading this do), make no mistake: this episode was a serious moment, when a notable figure in British politics openly attempted to force a media outlet into providing the coverage it so desired.
Perhaps this should come as no surprise; after all, this attitude has been a regular feature of the Coalition government. The Conservatives, and their partners, the increasingly ironically named Liberal Democrats, who, together with Labour, have greasily agreed on the Royal Charter.
While this is old news, it is concerning that the attacks on the freedom of the BBC have stepped up. Last week, Nick Clegg attacked Paxman for sneering at politicians after he made some disparaging remarks concerning British politicians. Now the Prime Minister is upset at comments directed towards him from Paxman. Since the Royal Charter, it seems, politicians are throwing their weight around more readily.
This is not – the last time I checked, at least – North Korea. So why then, does the Dear Leader, David Cameron, think he has the right to get a “full and public apology” from a veteran broadcaster, who is perfectly entitled to voice his opinion?
The language of Mr Wilson’s letter is also significant; since he is essentially demanding Paxman to not only take back his words, but to grovel to the Prime Minister. This would be humiliating, and you have to ask: what would be the purpose of publicly humiliating Paxman? And the only possible answer, it seems, would be to stop, or at least tame, future attacks on David Cameron and his illiberal Coalition friends.
Reportedly, a BBC spokesman has responded, saying that: “We have not received Mr Wilson’s letter but when we do we will respond in due course.”
Personally, I hope they tell Mr Wilson exactly where to go. And you should too.