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Sunday, April 29, 2012

Dispute over BBC payments to politicians

The Telegraph reports that the BBC has launched an inquiry which could lead to a ban on MPs being paid to appear as guests on programmes. They say that politicians are regularly rewarded for their broadcasts, earning up to £200 plus expenses for a turn on Radio 4's Any Questions or more than £500 for BBC One's This Week:

The BBC Trust, which represents licence payers, will rule this week on a dispute over payments to one MP. It is being seen as a test case which, if it goes against the parliamentarian, would result in a tightening of the rules to prevent similar payments in future.

The current dispute centres on payments of almost £6,000 made to Diane Abbott, the Labour MP, for seven appearances as a pundit on This Week alongside Michael Portillo, the former Conservative MP, and Andrew Neil, the show's presenter.

The shows were all filmed since October 2010, when Miss Abbott was promoted to a place on Labour's front bench as a shadow health minister.

Mark Thompson, the Director-General, and the BBC Editorial Complaints Unit received complaints from Lord Laird of Artigarvan, a cross-bench peer, who said the payments to Miss Abbott breached the BBC's own editorial guidelines.

These state: "We should not normally pay MPs, or others clearly identified as representing political parties, for appearances or other contributions to any BBC output in which they are speaking as a member of their party or expressing political views."

When Lord Laird initially raised the matter in a letter to Mr Thompson, he was told that this rule did not apply in Miss Abbott's case because This Week is "not a traditional political programme".

However, he appealed and was told this month by John Hamer of the BBC Trust Unit that the Editorial Standards Committee, which comprises five members of the BBC Trust, would examine the matter this Thursday.

This could prove to be interesting.

In the days before journalists took over AQ & QT and started to treat them as extended interviews, politicians were worth their money as personalities, who didn't feel they had to defend their party line on every question. Wedgwood Benn and Healey, for instance, were entertaining in their own right.

Another malign influence is that of the parties' spin machines (LibDems sadly included) who are able to prevent MPs appearing.
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