Broadcaster had initially justified ‘they’re a disgrace’ comments as ‘robust questioning’, but now accepts Jeremy Hunt interview was ‘inappropriate’

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It has emerged that the BBC intends to uphold a complaint over a notorious Radio 5Live interview last month in which the presenter suggested the government should sack hundreds of civil servants for planning to strike in the run-up to the Olympic games.

The BBC says it accepts the comments ‘went beyond what was appropriate in an interview of this kind’.

The broadcaster had initially sought to defend the comments as ‘robust questioning’, designed to ‘explore the government’s position’ on the strike.

Critics bombarded the BBC with complaints following the 22 July interview in which Garry Richardson asked Culture Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, about plans for PCS Home Office staff to strike over compulsory redundancies among UK Border Agency staff.

Richardson said: “They’re a disgrace, aren’t they?”

A later question was simply: “Sack ’em?”

Listeners remarked afterwards that Jeremy Hunt appeared more moderate than the interviewer, saying he did not want to escalate the dispute.

However, Garry Richardson continued: “The real militant ones, you’d like to see them sacked, wouldn’t you?” and later, “Get rid of the other 400. Well done.”

Immediately after the interview, the BBC Complaints Unit issued a series of standard replies to critics, including the PCS itself, saying the interview contained only ‘robust questioning’ about the government’s response to the strike, which was scheduled to take place on the eve of the Olympics opening ceremony.

However, in a detailed response to one of those who pursued the complaint, posted on the Organised Rage blog, the BBC’s Editorial Complaints Unit says: “we believe that the comments made by Mr Richardson about members of the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) who were planning to take strike action on the eve of the Olympic Games created an impression which went beyond what was appropriate in a programme of this kind, and tended to suggest that he was voicing a personal view.”

The BBC says it intends to circulate the draft judgement to interested parties before it is formally published.

A PCS spokesman told UnionNews: “We are pleased the BBC has recognised that this interview went beyond fair and balanced coverage.”

The BBC’s editorial guidelines, issued to all programme staff, require presenters not to display their own personal opinions or prejudices on issues of political or industrial controversy.


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