Newsnight, BBC Two, Wednesday 23 May 2012

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We have received complaints from viewers who felt the programme's interview surrounding welfare provision with Ms Shanene Thorpe, did not portray the full extent of Ms Thorpe's personal circumstances.

We have also received a complaint from Ms Thorpe directly, which the editor of Newsnight has responded to, in accordance with the BBC's complaints process.


Mr Rippon explains his response to Ms Thorpe as follows:

"I responded to Ms Thorpe personally because, as I explained in a previous telephone conversation to her, I do think we have something to apologise for.

In my response to Ms Thorpe I explained the background to the interview, which looked at the Government's plans of making a further ten billion pounds of savings from its Welfare bill. Some of the ideas being considered are controversial, including restricting housing benefits for young people who could be living at home and encouraging people to have fewer children. It is these ideas we wanted to explore. We especially wanted to get reaction from people who could be affected. We approached Tower Hamlets press office to see if they could find case studies.

Ms Thorpe was put forward to us as someone who fitted the bill and with strong and articulate opinions on why the Government would be wrong to introduce such limitations. It now seems that she understood she would be interviewed about working as a young single parent. So when Newsnight's Political Editor asked her the questions she did, she was under the impression that Ms Thorpe was fully aware that the focus of the interview was on the possible controversial Government proposals and how they could affect her personally. We decided to use the interview because her situation was relevant to the kind of changes the Government is considering introducing.

Within this context the general line of questioning was, I think, reasonable but clearly there are lessons for us to learn. We should always discuss the nature of this kind of interview with the contributor before the camera starts to roll, whatever the time constraints. I am genuinely sorry that Ms Thorpe was made to feel uncomfortable as a result and have apologised to her personally. However, there was no question of intentional bias, just a misunderstanding.

That is not to diminish Ms Thorpe's concerns - it's just an explanation of what happened. Also, I do accept that we didn't make clear that Ms Thorpe is a working mother and that someone watching the exchange could have got the impression she is unemployed. It was left to her to point out that she felt her situation is different from that of unemployed people living with their parents and that she was asking for a contribution, "not a free handout". It would not be defamatory to imply someone is unemployed but we should not have allowed that impression to be created so I apologise.

Peter Rippon


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