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Programme Complaints Unit29 October 2001
Our Ref: PA/7577
Mr Stephen Hewitt
15 Manor Court
Today, Radio 4, 12 October 2001
Further to our letter of 18 October, we have now listened to a tape of the programme. You will recall that I do not believe that Mr Aitken's conviction for perjury is connected to his expertise on Saudi Arabia; I have now considered your other two points.
Firstly, you say Mr Aitken "smear[ed] the previous speaker". I assume you mean Dr Saad al- Fagih, who was in the report just before Mr Aitken's interview, where he was described as a "London-based Saudi dissident". Dr al-Fagih runs an organisation called the "Movement for Islamic Reform", and is, as you say in your letter, an opponent of the current Saudi government. Mr Aitken said "Dr al-Fagih has a long-standing agenda for trying to make Saudi Arabia unstable and is making the most of current opportunities ". I do not regard that as a smear on Dr al-Fagih, but a reasonable comment from an expert on Saudi Arabia about a very well-known opposition figure. Your quote from the BBC Producers' Guidelines about right of reply included the bracketed comment "see below", which refers to section 2.7. That describes giving a right of reply to people or organisation criticised by the BBC (for example, a company that is the subject of an investigation in Watchdog), not commented on by interviewees, such as Mr Aitken. Today usually achieves political balance by interviewing - in succession - a minister followed by an opposition spokesperson, or vice versa. Whoever goes second may criticise the previous speaker. That does not entitle either to a right of reply. I am not therefore upholding this aspect of your complaint.
Cont/d. . .2
You also complain about the way Dr al-Fagih was introduced, and claim Mr Aitken was not introduced similarly. I quoted the description of Dr al-Fagih given by the programme above - which is factual. Mr Aitken was introduced as a ". . .former Conservative minister for Defence Procurement who knows Saudi Arabia well", which is also factual. It might even be taken as a description of his connections to the country. I am therefore not upholding this aspect of your complaint either.
Head of Programme Complaints