Paxman broke BBC impartiality rules

Presenter in trouble for article on Iraq war 'lies'
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The Independent Online

Jeremy Paxman has landed himself in hot water for breaking the BBC's rules on impartiality in a recent newspaper article he wrote about the Iraq war.

The Newsnight presenter was admonished for claiming that Tony Blair based his justification for going to war on "lies" when the Chilcot inquiry has yet to report back on the former prime minister's reasoning.

The director of BBC News, Helen Boaden, has admitted Paxman undermined the corporation's impartial reputation in an article for The Guardian in November.

In response to a reader's complaint, she said: "I do not think it was appropriate for the article to refer to 'the initial lies that took us to war'." She added: "Given that we do not know the truth about what lies may or may not have been told, we cannot attribute such a motive to Tony Blair's government, and making such an unequivocal statement gives a partial impression."

The BBC, which yesterday declined to comment, has become more sensitive to charges of impartiality since the Hutton report in 2004. Its guidelines forbid staff from off-air activity that might prompt viewers to doubt the "objectivity or integrity" of their editorial or on-air role.

Ms Boaden said Paxman should have "phrased differently" his summary of the steps to war, which the presenter said "tarnished everything it touched". She also said his reference to "little George Bush" was "somewhat sneering" and called it "borderline in terms of tone" to talk about "Tony Blair's striding around with his new best friend" wearing "excruciating ball-crushing jeans".

Paxman failed to clear the piece with his department head, as guidelines stipulate. It accompanied his "photograph of the decade" – a picture of Iraqi civilians and US soldiers pulling down a statue of Saddam on 9 April 2003.

"Had he asked for approval for this article, we would have asked him to change some elements," Ms Boaden wrote in an emailed response to a disgruntled reader who passed the correspondence to The Independent on Sunday. "I shall be drawing his attention to my view of aspects of this article and will remind him of the need to appear impartial at all times while retaining his much admired and valued iconoclastic style."

A number of senior BBC presenters write regular columns for newspapers and magazines, including John Humphrys and Jeremy Clarkson. The corporation tightened its guidelines following TV cook Jamie Oliver's £1m advertising contract with Sainsbury's.

Despite Paxman's ticking off, the reader, Stan Rosenthal, said he intended to appeal to the BBC Trust for a "more forthright and public verdict" against the presenter.