BBC defends Fiona Bruce over accusations presenter ‘trivialised domestic abuse’

The father of former prime minister Boris Johnson was described as a ‘wife-beater’ by journalist and panel member Yasmin Alibhai-Brown.

Nina Lloyd
Friday 10 March 2023 21:38 GMT
Fiona Bruce on the set of Question Time (Richard Lewisohn/BBC)
Fiona Bruce on the set of Question Time (Richard Lewisohn/BBC)

The BBC has defended Question Time’s Fiona Bruce against accusations that she trivialised domestic abuse during a discussion about Stanley Johnson.

The presenter has faced a social media backlash after intervening when father of former prime minister Boris Johnson was described as a “wife-beater” in Thursday’s episode of the show.

Journalist and panel member Yasmin Alibhai-Brown had said the 82-year-old’s alleged history of violence was “on the record”.

Ms Bruce interrupted, telling Ms Alibhai-Brown and the audience: “I’m not disputing what you’re saying, but just so everyone knows what this is referring to, Stanley Johnson’s wife spoke to a journalist, Tom Bower, and she said that Stanley Johnson had broken her nose and that she’d ended up in hospital as a result.

“Stanley Johnson has not commented publicly on that. Friends of his have said it did happen but it was a one-off.”

Following the show, public figures including Labour MP Kate Osborne and chief executive of Women’s Aid Farah Nazeer accused her of downplaying the gravity of domestic violence.

But in a statement on Friday, the BBC said: “Domestic abuse is abhorrent, and we would never wish to suggest otherwise.

“When serious allegations are made on air against people or organisations, it is the job of BBC presenters to ensure that the context of those allegations – and any right of reply from the person or organisation – is given to the audience, and this is what Fiona Bruce was doing last night.

“She was not expressing any personal opinion about the situation.”

“International Women’s Day this week and Fiona Bruce trivialises violence against women: Stanley Johnson’s friends say ‘it was a one off’ that he broke his wife’s nose Disgraceful,” Ms Osborne said in a post on Twitter.

And charity boss Ms Nazeer said: “At Women’s Aid we were shocked last night to see the Question Time presenter Fiona Bruce state, in response to a comment that Stanley Johnson was a ‘wife-beater’, that ‘friends of his said it did happen, it was a one off’.

“This comment was unnecessary and irresponsible. We know at Women’s Aid that domestic abuse is rarely, if ever, a ’one-off’, with the vast majority of abuse being a pattern of behaviour that includes different forms of abuse… Even if abuse is an isolated event, it would have still been domestic abuse, and this should never be minimised.”

It comes after reports that Mr Johnson plans to nominate his father a knighthood.

Immigration Minister Robert Jenrick, who also appeared on Thursday’s Question Time, said former prime ministers should “absolutely not” include family members in their resignation honours list.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has called the prospect “ridiculous”, telling LBC Radio: “The idea of an ex-prime minister bestowing honours on his dad – for services to what?”

He added: “The idea that Boris Johnson is nominating his dad for a knighthood – you only need to say it to realise just how ridiculous it is.

“It’s classic of a man like Johnson. I mean, I think the public will just think this is absolutely outrageous.”

The fallout is the latest controversy to hit the BBC in recent days, coming amid a row over the decision to take Match Of The Day presenter Gary Lineker off air following comments he made on Twitter about the Government’s immigration policy.

The corporation has also hit back at claims that it pulled an episode of a new Sir David Attenborough series out of fears of a political backlash.

The Guardian reported on Friday that insiders had claimed the broadcaster was bowing to pressure from lobbying groups by making the Save Our Wild Isles programme available only on iPlayer.

The show was originally intended as a sixth episode of the Wild Isles series but had been separated to avoid criticism from Tory MPs and right-wing newspapers, according to the report.

A spokesperson from the BBC said the claims were “totally inaccurate” and that “Wild Isles is – and always was – a five-part series and does not shy away from environmental content”.

And later on Friday, the corporation was forced to issue an apology over a failure to properly scrutinise unproven claims made by Nadine Dorries about Sue Gray on its World At One programme.

The BBC said there “should have been more challenge” when the Boris Johnson loyalist suggested the former civil servant’s report into lockdown-breaking parties in Downing Street was discredited following her decision to become Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer’s chief of staff.

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