Tuesday, August 31, 2010

BBC pulls interview with Malaysian blogger on legal grounds

The BBC's Hardtalk programme has dropped a planned interview with Raja Petra Kamarudin, a leading Malaysian blogger who fled to the UK, following advice from the broadcaster's lawyers.

RPK, who I interviewed for The Guardian earlier this month, revealed on his blog on Sunday that the BBC had decided to pull the interview, which was due to take place on Wednesday.

I just got off the phone to Bridget Osborne, a Hardtalk producer, who confirmed that the RPK interview had been dropped following legal advice.

"He has made all sorts of allegtaions that we have no way of confirming or denying independently," she said, so the programme's lawyers advised them not to go ahead.

Hardtalk, which describes itself as BBC News' "hard-hitting flagship news programme", has previously interviewed many dictators, dissidents and crackpots who have made countless wild allegations.

But the producer refused to comment any further on why RPK had been dropped when so many other controversial interviews had gone ahead.

It is strange that the BBC appears to have wimped out of interviewing one of Malaysia's leading dissidents. As RPK says, "it is a rare occasion that they have had to drop a program".

But, in defence of the producers, I know from my own experience as a journalist that in-house media lawyers often have a very low risk threshold.

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