EU leaders seek BBC apology in ‘idiot’ row

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The European Commission has demanded an “unqualified apology” from the BBC for what it called the “disgraceful” treatment of one of its spokesman during an edition of Newsnight last month.

A letter to BBC director general Mark Thompson accuses presenter Jeremy Paxman of losing control of the programme after studio guest Peter Oborne described the spokesman as “that idiot in Brussels”.

Finally the spokesman, Amadeu Altafaj Tardio – who joined the programme by video link from the BBC’s Brussels studio – walked out after Paxman admonished Mr Oborne for being “gratuitously offensive”

But by then Mr Oborne had used the phrase more than once during a debate about the economic crisis and the euro currency, and Paxman’s response came too late, according to the spokesman’s boss, Economic and Monetary Affairs Commissioner Olli Rehn.

Mr Rehn’s letter, copied to BBC trust chairman and former EU Commissioner Lord Patten, says Paxman failed to make clear to Mr Oborne after his first “insult” that such language was totally inappropriate.

The letter continues: “I was shocked by such an unacceptable behaviour as Peter Oborne’s being effectively endorsed by a top figure of the BBC.

“When Mr Paxman finally reacted, after tolerating those insults several times, using the same “idiot” language himself and having lost control of the programme, it was too late: the abused Commission spokesman, who showed enormous patience and commitment, considered it was useless to try to have a rational discussion with interlocutors that resorted to insults instead of intelligent arguments, and took the right and difficult decision to leave.

“A shame, and improper practice for the BBC.”

Mr Rehn added: “I look forward to receiving not only an unqualified apology for the BBC’s unacceptable behaviour toward my spokesman but also an indication of measures you are taking to avoid any repetition of such practices.”