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

29th September 2011, Comments 0 comments

The BBC apologised on Thursday to the EU after a Brussels official was repeatedly called an "idiot" when taking part in a flagship news broadcast on the eurozone debt crisis.

TV bosses said they contacted European Commission economic affairs spokesman Amadeu Altafaj Tardio to apologise for "discourtesy" that led him to walk off the Newsnight show during a video-link appearance from Brussels on Wednesday night.

The clip turned into an Internet hit -- and piled on discomfort for Britain's state media giant, already under fire for an interview with a self-styled independent trader who claimed bankers were "dreaming of another recession" so they can make more money.

The Commission, the EU civil service central in international negotiations to prevent the eurozone crisis from turning into a global economic catastrophe, had earlier demanded a formal apology.

Portuguese national Altafaj joined a discussion panel including Peter Oborne, a noted eurosceptic columnist primarily associated with Britain's Daily Telegraph newspaper.

In what commission insiders viewed as an ambush, he was asked by star 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, known for his tough questioning, 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, Finland's Olli Rehn.

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

However, when Oborne repeated the attack yet again, viewers could clearly see Altafaj gently 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," 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.

A BBC spokeswoman later said a further apology had been issued.

"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.

"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.

The BBC was already on the defensive on Thursday over claims that self-styled trader Alessio Rastani, who told BBC 24 that "Goldman Sachs rules the world", was part of an organised hoax.

The broadcaster said it was satisfied he was not a hoaxer.

© 2011 AFP

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