Friday 18 September 2015


Here (h/t Guest Who) comes the BBC's official response to complaints it received about James O'Brien's overbearing behaviour towards Tory MP Daniel Kawczynski on Newsnight last week (as reviewed here): 

That's all very well from James O'Brien, admitting that he didn't get it quite right, and it's true that the BBC got complaints and plaudits for the interview (as we said at the time)...

...but that's only half the story and this Newsnight reply seems disingenuous. 

My impression on watching it (very much confirmed by re-watching it) wasn't that James O'Brien was spontaneously making his own frustration felt at Mr Kawczynski's refusal to answer his questions. Instead he aggressively charged at Mr Kawczynski as soon as he'd given his first answer - and did so with what sounded like a pre-prepared pro-Newsnight attack/defence. 

Unlike most passing readers of that BBC Complaints post (I suspect), I was aware that Mr Kawczynski was only on the programme because he'd got into a prolonged Twitter spat that day with Newsnight editor Ian Katz over BBC bias - the outcome of which was that Ian Katz invited Daniel Kawczynski onto the programme that night, it might have been presumed to continue their discussion on air, with JO'B acting as His Master's (Ian Katz's) Voice. Given what actually happened though, JO'B seemed intent on crushing the MP's complaint (and the MP) live on air, right from the very start. 

So when Mr Kawczynski duly appeared James O'Brien responded to his first comment (accusing the BBC of bias) by charging at Mr Kawczynski, delivering a robust editorial completely dismissing the MP's concerns about BBC bias and then, instead of allowing him to respond, simply repeating his own question and refusing to allow Mr Kawczynski to counter his own pro-Newsnight rant by repeatedly accusing the MP of not answering his question. 

That's what was particularly inappropriate there (in my opinion) and the BBC's response glossed over it.


  1. Possibly an episode the BBC, Newsnight, Lord Hall, Rona, Ian, etc would rather forget as the DCMS committee mulls away?

    Sadly for the Trust and market rate Comical Alis in front of said committee, they seem better informed these days.

    Maybe someone in the Chair's constituency is helping with shared areas of interest to keep them current?

  2. The BBC has a duty of impartiality. So it doesn't matter if they get a million and one e mails of praise, if the interview was not conducted with due regard to that duty, then it was wrongly conducted.

  3. Of course O'Brien led with a prepared attack line. That was the whole point of having Kawczynski on: to defend his remark to Katz. Nothing especially biased about that (never mind that Katz was pretty obviously taking sides). Kawczynski's defense was very poor, and O'Brien is clearly schooled in the "Shout and Repeat, Paxman/Howard is the epitome of interviewing" techniques that every single Beeboid tries to use these days.

    So it was a poor showing all round.

  4. I take a different view of the actual interview itself - I think it's perfectly fair, if a Conservative MP is going to come on and accuse the BBC Newsnight of being biased, that Newsnight put forward why they believe it was not biased (which is what James O'Brien tried to do) - I also think there is a reasonable point here that when O'Brien asks the MP a question, and the MP repeatedly avoids answering, that O'Brien is allowed to push him on the point.

    My main issue, therefore, wasn't with the interview - it was with the actual piece, which was entitled "Yemen's forgotten war", which was aimed at an audience that aren't at all familiar with the Yemen conflict, and yet there was no introduction to the conflict, or an explanation of why a Saudi-led coalition had formed to take action - the impression left was one that Saudi had just randomly decided to start bombing Yemen, and people are suffering as a result.

    O'Brien tried to defend the piece by saying - it was a specific investigation into whether a country (Saudi) who Britain supplies arms to is committing war crimes - whilst that is a legitimate thing to investigate, I'm afraid it's not an excuse for not covering war crimes committed by the other side, or exploring why Saudi Arabia formed a coalition to defeat the other side - failure to explore these issues, will lead to accusations of being "one-sided".

    And O'Brien's defense is not really a defense at all - it would be as if a news program did an investigation into Conservative MPs' expenses scandals, and never covered Labour's, using the defense "Ah, but our investigation was on the specific question of Conservative MPs, therefore there was no need for us to investigate the Labour MPs"

    O'Brien defended this by saying "Yes, but the report was looking into the specific question of whether Britain are supplying weapons to a country committing war crimes" - that is not really a defence against bias - it's like


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