Thompson defends Humphrys’ Prescott questions

BBC director general Mark Thompson has robustly defended John Humphrys and BBC journalism in a new clash with MPs over political coverage.

Thompson sprang to the defence of Humphrys when he was challenged by the Commons media select committee today on whether it was legitimate for the Today presenter to quiz John Prescott over allegations that he had other affairs.

“The affair the Deputy Prime Minister had with his diary secretary raised matters of legitimate interest,” Thompson said.

“It was right for the BBC and the rest of the media to report that, and to explore the political ramifications of that.”

He said there had been reports that Prescott had been involved in other affairs.

“It was legitimate for John Humphrys to press him on that. I think it was a legitimate piece of journalism,” Thompson told the committee.

He told MPs that under Andrew Marr and Nick Robinson the calibre of the BBC’s political reporting had “gone up rather than down”.

“Our coverage of Westminster politics is growing in depth,” he said.

He also defended Jonathan Ross’s controversial interview with David Cameron, in which the Tory leader was asked whether he used to masturbate when he saw pictures of Margaret Thatcher.

“I believe the interview as broadcast was acceptable,” Thompson said.

Thompson said: “My view of recent months in circumstances of a difficult and intense political environment is that we have not overstepped the mark.”

He told MPs that the BBC plans to develop up to 60 local TV stations could lead to a “significant investment in journalism”.

The Newspaper Society has warned that BBC plans could stifle newspaper investment in the market, threatening newspaper closures.

But, while acknowledging there had been criticism, Thompson said: “On the ground we have worked very effectively with local newspapers and one or two newspaper groups.”

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