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Hands up

Ben Rich | 09:23 UK time, Friday, 19 May 2006

Days when you do an on-air correction about what the prime minister said in the House of Commons are never going to qualify as a high point. But that's what happened when, on the Six O'Clock News on Wednesday, we quoted the prime minister on illegal immigrants, without making it explicit that he was quoting a former Conservative home secretary. As soon as the piece went out, Downing Street were on the phone accusing us of unfairness.

sixoclocknews.gifThe problem arose because the prime minister used one of those "delayed drop" answers beloved of MPs (John Prescott had done one just that morning defining the job of deputy prime minister to Tory jeers before revealing that his words were in fact those of Michael Heseltine).

Mr Blair had said (once again to Tory jeers): “There are no official estimates of the number of illegal immigrants into the United Kingdom. By its very nature, illegal immigration is difficult to measure and any estimates would be highly speculative," before revealing that he was quoting Michael Howard. Except that alert Tories found him out and interrupted before he could do the drop properly. In the rush of the edit we cut the clip off right there, thus denying him his point that no Government has ever known these figures.

So with the minutes ticking away to the end of the programme, we had to decide what to do. The problem was that in one sense it was misleading (we didn't make it clear he was quoting) but in another it clearly did represent his position. Being a well-brought up BBC person, I referred up and we decided that we should make the factual correction and tell the viewers, once they had made it through the weather, of our mistake. It wasn't an easy decision, but in the end if we're to say we're open to admitting our mistakes, then sometimes we just have to put our hands up.


  • 1.
  • At 03:05 AM on 20 May 2006,
  • marko wrote:

"Downing Street were on the phone accusing us of unfairness"

Why weren't they referred to the one portal complaints line? Aren't all complaints now funnelled to one point allowing any licence fee payer to complain on an equal footing? So the action the BBC takes on a complaint still greatly depends on whether you're an ordinary member of the public, the clergy, an MP or a celebrity for example?

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