15 Manor Court
Cambridge CB3 9BE
Tel 01223 350640
15 October 2001
Head of Programme Complaints,
BBC Broadcasting House,
London W1A 1AA.
"Today" Radio 4 FM Friday 12 October 2001
It was rather a surprise to switch on Radio 4 FM on Friday (12 Oct) morning and hear that someone called Jonathan Aitken was in the studio for an interview about Saudi Arabia. Could this be the same Jonathan Aitken who on 8 June 1999 was sentenced to 18 months in prison for perjury and attempting to pervert the course of justice? At that trial the judge said to him "for nearly four years you wove a web of deceit" and described his offence as "calculated perjury pursued over a long period of time".
In contrast, the "Editorial Values" extract contained in the BBC's "Producers' Guidelines" states "We must be accurate and must be prepared to check, cross-check and seek advice to ensure this." Surely the BBC does not treat someone with the personal history described above as a reliable source, but I heard no warning when he was introduced about his record of deception. It seems that not much checking was done before presenting someone with a recent criminal conviction as if he were an authoritative source of information.
Secondly, the BBC then proceeded to break the rule of "right of reply". BBC Producers Guidelines Chapter 2.1 states "The key is for programme makers to be fair to their subject matter, and to ensure that right of reply obligations are met (see below). " Jonathan Aitken was allowed to smear the previous speaker by stating and/or implying that the previous speaker's comments were motivated by vested interest rather than accuracy. The previous speaker was given no opportunity to reply to this.
Thirdly, the previous speaker was introduced as a member of the Saudi government opposition. That was clear. But I did not hear the interviewer raising the subject of Jonathan Aitken's financial and other connections with Saudi Arabia and with the royal family that he seemed so staunchly to support.
I hope that you can investigate each of these three separate points, and help this program to come closer to the BBC's standards of accuracy and impartiality in future.