BBC defends Paxman ‘Mugabe’ slur after viewers complain

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By a Newsnet reporter

The BBC has defended one of its top presenters after he compared Scotland’s First Minister Alex Salmond to Robert Mugabe.

The broadcaster received over 150 complaints after Newsnight host Jeremy Paxman compared Scotland to Zimbabwe and Mr Salmond to the African dictator.

Mr Salmond was being interviewed by the presenter after delivering the Hugo Young lecture in London when Paxman remarked on comments by the First Minister who said an independent Scotland would be a “beacon of progressiveness”,

The BBC presenter told the First Minister that Robert Mugabe had said the same thing about  Zimbabwe.

When the SNP leader suggested to the BBC presenter that he wasn’t doing himself any favours by comparing Scotland to Zimbabwe Paxman replied: “No, I’m comparing you to Mugabe”.

The remark sparked a flurry of internet anger as people tweeted to one another.  The BBC were inundated with complaints after viewers rushed to condemn their front man.

The interview had started with Paxman ridiculing Mr Salmond by referring to him as “Moses”.  The Newsnight presenter made several other mocking remarks including claiming that an independent Scotland would be “broke”.

A BBC spokesman defended Mr Paxman and said: “This was a good natured exchange between two experienced political operators who often spar with one another.  Jeremy’s reference was made within this context.

“While the comparison was not serious, he was attempting to tease out details of an independent Scotland and how politically progressive it could be.”

It isn’t the first time the presenter has caused controversy.  In 2007, shortly before the SNP won its first Scottish election, the BBC were forced to apologise after Mr Paxman confronted Mr Salmond during a live TV debate with a poll suggesting businesses were against independence– the poll turned out to have been fabricated.

In another episode shortly after the 2007 election, the BBC were again forced to apologise after Mr Paxman’s colleague, Kirsty Wark, ended an interview with Mr Salmond in an abrupt and rude fashion.