By Bob Duncan
The BBC has been found guilty of breaching its own editorial guidelines after payments paid to a Labour MP were deemed excessive.
In a ruling published yesterday, the BBC Trust Editorial Standards Committee said that senior Labour MP Diane Abbott had been paid too much for appearances on the late night political programme ‘This Week’.
Ms Abbott, who was appointed shadow minister for public health in October 2010, appeared on This Week on December 16 of that year and featured in a further seven programmes between then and March this year.
In January, the Ulster Unionist peer Lord Laird complained about payments the Labour MP had received after appearing on the show, which is hosted by former Scotsman chief, Andrew Neil. Ms Abbott had received five payments of £839 and one of £869 for appearances since she had been promoted to the Labour front bench.
However, in a ruling published on Thursday, the BBC Trust’s Editorial Standards Committee (ESC) said that the corporation had breached its own editorial guidelines by paying the fees to the Labour MP.
In the ruling, the ESC said that a “realistic disturbance fee” should have been paid to Abbott for her eight appearances since October 2010. “However, the payment of such substantial appearance fees to Ms Abbott since she took up her front bench position in 2010 was a breach of the guidelines”.
BBC guidelines state that MPs should not be paid for appearances when they are “speaking as a member of their party or expressing political views”.
Defending the amount paid to Ms Abbott, the producers of This Week bizarrely argued that the programme was an exception because it was “not a traditional political programme”.
They also maintained that, while Diane Abbott and former Tory Minister Michael Portillo were frequently asked to express political opinions and discuss political issues, they also had a co-presenter role which involved interviewing other guests.
But this was rejected by the ESC. In its ruling, the trust committee said BBC executives had acknowledged it had been wrong for Abbott to have received such substantial payments during the course of its investigation.
Lord Laird also took exception to the views of the programme’s producers, saying they were being allowed “to flout the BBC’s own editorial policy” and expressed surprise at their assertion that This Week was “not a normal political programme”.
The BBC also accepted that Abbott had appeared on This Week too often since becoming a shadow minister. They said her appearances should have been limited to once or twice a year, not eight times in 17 months.
A spokesman for Ms Abbott said: “Diane stopped being a regular guest presenter on This Week because of the BBC guidelines. She now only goes on occasionally.
“She declares any earnings in the way she is supposed to. In the case of This Week, it’s a standard fee that is paid to all guest presenters.”
In response to the curtailment of her appearances, the Labour MP tweeted: “No more ‘This Week’. BBC management say I cannot be a shadow minister and be on the program (sic). Sad.”
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