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British Broadcasting Corporation Broadcasting House Portland Place London WIA 1AA Telephone 020 7580 4468 Fax 020 7765 5 1 76

Programme Complaints Unit

29 October 2001

Our Ref: PA/7577

Mr Stephen Hewitt
15 Manor Court
Grange Road
Cambridge
CB3 9BE

Dear Mr Hewitt

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

-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.

Yours sincerely

Fraser Steel
Head of Programme Complaints
FS/DLV


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