Diane Abbott Question Time row: Labour requests BBC footage of Fiona Bruce 'joke' and demands on-air correction of poll claim

Exclusive: Party seeks formal apology for 'unacceptable' treatment of shadow home secretary after she accuses flagship show of legitimising racism against her

Benjamin Kentish
Political Correspondent
Sunday 20 January 2019 12:58
Comments
Diane Abbott takes on panelists during Question Time

Labour has asked the BBC for unseen footage of last week’s Question Time and demanded a correction during next week’s episode as a row over the show’s treatment of Diane Abbott deepened.

The party has made a formal complaint to the broadcaster over what it called the “unacceptable” treatment of Ms Abbott, the shadow home secretary.

The Hackney North and Stoke Newington MP was interrupted twice as many times as the Conservative MP on the panel, justice minister Rory Stewart, according to Labour.

The show’s new host, Fiona Bruce, is also reported to have made a joke during the warm-up, part of which implied Ms Abbott had been given her shadow cabinet role because of her past relationship with Jeremy Corbyn. The BBC refused to confirm or deny the claim.

The Independent understands Labour has asked the BBC for any footage or recordings from the warm-up segment, which is not broadcast.

It is also demanding an on-air correction of Ms Bruce’s assertion that Labour is “definitely” behind in the polls, given recent surveys suggest the party is level-pegging with the Conservatives, as had been suggested by Ms Abbott.

A Labour source said: “Diane Abbott has been subjected to a serious, often racist and sexist campaign of hate and abuse. The way she was treated on Question Time was unacceptable and fed the hostility towards her.

“We expect the programme to correct inaccuracies, provide a full explanation of what happened during the show’s production and to apologise to Diane.”

The row erupted after Ms Abbott claimed the show had legitimised racism against her and described her appearance as a “horrible experience”.

Labour said she had been interrupted 21 times during the show, compared to nine times for Mr Stewart and eight for the SNP’s Kirsty Blackman.

On one occasion, Ms Bruce interjected to challenge Ms Abbott’s claim that her party was “level-pegging” with the Tories in the polls. The presenter insisted Labour was “definitely” behind, although of 10 recent polls, four showed the Conservatives ahead, four placed Labour in front and two had the parties tied.

After Ms Bruce’s comment was widely criticised by Labour supporters online, the BBC tweeted: “We’ve reviewed what was said regarding polling. A YouGov poll published on the day suggested a lead for the Conservatives.

Diane Abbott was also right that some other polls suggested Labour were either ahead or tied and we should have made that clear.”

Writing in The Independent, Ms Abbott said Ms Bruce did “not appear to be well briefed” and was “not afraid to appear unfair as a presenter”.

“I was interrupted more than double the number of times that Tory MP Rory Stewart was interrupted, even though he spoke more times than I and for a longer period overall,” she said.

“I was not allowed to respond to a blatantly abusive remark from the audience. I’m also told that she made unpleasant remarks about me to the audience, before the programme was actually recorded, although the BBC has denied that ‘any of the panel was treated unfairly either before or during the recording’.

“A number of people who were there have reported that the audience was wound up against me before I even stepped on stage.”

She continued: “In all my life I have never asked for special treatment, only fair treatment. But many viewers and people in the audience for last week’s Question Time thought that the way I was spoken about before the programme, the way that I was treated during the programme and the chairing of the programme were decidedly unfair.”

A BBC spokesperson said: “We’re sorry to hear Diane Abbott’s concerns and have contacted her team to reassure them social media reports are inaccurate and misleading.

“Diane Abbott is a regular and important contributor. We firmly reject claims any of the panel were treated unfairly before or during the recording.”

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