Entertainment & Arts

Clare Balding denies Saga interview 'diva' claims

Clare Balding
Image caption Clare Balding was the cover star of Saga Magazine

Clare Balding has denied claims that she demanded changes were made to a magazine interview and replaced quotes with her own "self-promoting words".

Journalist Ginny Dougary branded Balding an "insecure diva" in an article in The Guardian about her experience interviewing the presenter for Saga magazine.

But the BBC presenter tweeted that she "did not have copy approval".

She said it was the editor of Saga that had asked for changes.

Saga magazine issued a statement saying that Dougary was "mistaken in thinking that copy approval was given. It was not."

It said it had edited the interview "with the full involvement of the writer".

'Saga saga'

Dougary said she had asked for her byline to be removed from the article after a number of changes were made to her copy, claiming these were due to requests from the BBC presenter and her agent.

The journalist also said Balding had added quotes about hosting the women's European football championships as well as a "shameless puff" for her own children's book.

Saga said it was the magazine editor's view that the "original article did not cover the wide range of issues that Clare holds dear" and the writer "suggested we add lines ourselves".

It said it was the editor's decision alone to edit any article that is "not exactly right" for the magazine and that they do "not defer that decision to PRs or interviewees".

Analysis by Amol Rajan, BBC media editor

Image copyright Reuters

It's not at all clear what changes or approval - if any - the broadcaster Clare Balding (or those around her) sought for her interview in Saga. I don't know the specifics of the case, and therefore couldn't pass judgement.

But in general, copy approval transgresses a fundamental principle of journalism. By in effect granting the interviewee final say in what is published, it gives them the right to shape what enters the public domain.

No journalist should be willing to cede control in that manner. When setting up interviews, it is reasonable for journalists to give a general outline of the subject matter to be discussed. But it is foolhardy to give final say to the interviewee.

In general, it is the most powerful people who have most to gain from copy approval. Given the basic job of journalists is to scrutinise power, that is all the more reason for journalists to resist such a move.

"Saga Magazine does not offer copy control, and interviews that require it are declined. In this case, quotes were checked for accuracy alone. New quotes were sourced to rebalance the article against deadline," they said.

The Guardian article was widely shared on social media with a number of journalists tweeting their agreement with Dougary.

Balding did not comment until after Saga's statement was published, revealing she had to stop herself from responding earlier in the day.

"Re the Saga saga, today has been an exercise in self-restraint," she said.

Among Dougary's claims was that she had been asked to say how "lovely" Balding was.

"I would certainly never ask anyone to call me 'lovely'. Gorgeous maybe - but never lovely!", Balding tweeted in response.

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