BBC apologises for 'idiot' TV jibe at EU crisis official

29th September 2011, Comments 0 comments

The BBC on Thursday apologised to EU economic affairs spokesman Amadeu Altafaj Tardio after he was repeatedly called an "idiot" when taking part in a flagship news broadcast.

The European Commission earlier demanded a formal apology after Altafaj walked off the Newsnight show during an appearance via video-link from Brussels on Wednesday night.

The clip turned into something of an Internet hit on Thursday.

Portuguese national Altafaj, who occupies the role of a high-ranking civil servant, joined a discussion panel including Peter Oborne, a noted eurosceptic columnist with Britain's Daily Telegraph newspaper.

In what commission insiders viewed as an ambush, he was asked by presenter Jeremy Paxman at the start of the debate: "Would you like to apologise, Mr Altafaj Tardio, for the lack of European leadership in this crisis?"

Altafaj defended the "political project" that is the creation of the eurozone in 1999, arguing that economics alone were not the reason to proceed with successive bailouts for Greece, Ireland and the Portugal.

When Oborne then came in, he referred to Altafaj up on the screen as "that idiot in Brussels."

Paxman is known for his tough questioning. He once asked a former Conservative government minister the same question at least a dozen times in a row.

He then turned to the commission's representative and said: "Mr Idiot in Brussels, would you like to respond?"

Altafaj ignored Paxman's comment and stuck to his official line defending his boss, Finnish commissioner Olli Rehn, one of the key EU-IMF bailout negotiators as Greece edges ever closer to default.

But then Oborne repeated the word "idiot", although Paxman butted in to say "will you stop referring to 'this idiot'," saying Oborne's language was "offensive."

However, when Oborne repeated the attack yet again, viewers could clearly see Altafaj remove his ear-piece and walk off his Brussels set in the background.

"The basis for all work and certainly of our approach to the media is respect and professionalism -- which was not respected in this case," senior commission spokeswoman Pia Ahrenkilde said on Thursday during a break from the serious business of Altafaj welcoming Germany's ratification of new powers for the EU's eurozone rescue fund.

"Obviously we are waiting for those concerned to transmit their apologies," she said, adding that by midday, only "oral" regret had been conveyed.

However a BBC spokeswoman later said a further apology had been made.

"This was a heated, live debate regarding the European debt crisis about which there are strongly held views and positions," BBC spokeswoman Helen Deller said when asked to respond by AFP.

"We certainly do not advocate Mr Oborne's comments regarding Mr Altafaj Tardio and Jeremy did robustly challenge him, criticising his treatment of the other guests.

"Jeremy also pointed out his behaviour meant the opportunity to further explore the European Commission's position was lost.

"We have apologised to Mr Altafaj Tardio for the discourtesy he was shown," she added.

© 2011 AFP

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