Leading article: Some tough questions for the BBC

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The Independent Online

Madonna appeared in a much-promoted interview on BBC2's Newsnight on Wednesday to talk about her adoption of the 13-month-old David Banda from Malawi. The arguments about the adoption have been well rehearsed. And there can be almost no one who does not have an opinion. Our view is that David probably has a better future in Madonna's family than if he had remained in the orphanage. This is why - on balance - we supported her.

But the Newsnight interview sets off a whole new controversy, which is less about Madonna than about the BBC and the accommodation by the media of celebrity. It is not hard to divine why Madonna (or her advisers) might have favoured an appearance on Newsnight. Britain is where Madonna has settled, and Newsnight viewers reflect a very different social demographic from the global audience for Oprah Winfrey. If you want to speak to members of this country's political and intellectual elite, this is one place to find them.

It appears, from the BBC's account, that Madonna had been approached much earlier about an interview for a series on high-profile women that the presenter, Kirsty Wark, was preparing. According to the BBC, Madonna had refused to take part, but agreed when approached again when the adoption furore was at its height. In other words, it was the corporation that had approached Madonna, not vice versa - although, in accepting, she surely appreciated the value of the forum on offer.

That the impetus came from the BBC, however, poses serious questions of its own. This was a "soft" interview, clearly conducted on Madonna's terms, from the candlelight and ruched curtains to the unchallenging questions asked by Ms Wark. For such a Hello!-type interview to lead BBC2's flagship current affairs programme was a travesty of all this hard-news programme professes to stand for.

Everything about the interview suggested that the questions had been agreed in advance and that specific areas were off limits as, increasingly and despicably, happens where celebrities and their agents are concerned. How else to explain Ms Wark's failure to tackle Madonna further about David's family, about the exact procedures she followed and the apparent fast-tracking of her application by the Malawi (and British) authorities? The way the interview was promoted also bore all the hallmarks of ratings-chasing that is precisely what the BBC should not be about.

There is no reason why Newsnight should not interview Madonna on the adoption issue. But it is a sad day when even this programme succumbs to celebrity-power. Newsnight should have a greater sense of its own dignity and purpose than to prostrate itself like this.