Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott has said a “hostile atmosphere was whipped up” against her ahead of her appearance on BBC Question Time last night, only the second programme with new host Fiona Bruce.
The Labour MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington said in a statement today that “reports of inappropriate and sexist commentary in the audience warm-up session” backed up her claim.
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Several Twitter users who claim to have been in the show’s audience alleged that remarks were made at Abbott’s expense before the programme went live from Derby. The BBC has denied this is the case.
Alison Martin, a former Labour Party parliamentary candidate for Mid-Derbyshire in 2017, tweeted: “I was in the audience of Question Time tonight – didn’t feel like a balanced audience, though the Leavers were loud.
“The jeers against Diane Abbott were worse than could be heard on the broadcast – was some humour at Diane’s expense from BBC staff before the recording.”
Another Twitter user going by the username PBol claimed Bruce had “basically made fun of Diane Abbott in the briefing before it aired” and told Mirror political reporter Mikey Smith that the host “made a remark about Diane’s close relationship with Corbyn prior to filming”.
Press Gazette has attempted to get in touch with these audience members for further detail on what was said about Abbott ahead of Question Time, but has yet to receive a response.
Jyoti Wilkinson, another Twitter user who describes himself as a Labour Party member and socialist trade unionist, tweeted: “Tonight I managed to wangle myself into the BBC Question Time audience.
“The way they stoked up the anti-Diane Abbott sentiment beforehand was appalling – the BBC is in dire need of reform.”
Abbott came under fire in 2017 after she struggled to say how much a Labour Party policy to recruit an extra 10,000 more police officers would cost, in an interview with LBC’s Nick Ferrari.
A spokesperson for Diane Abbott said today of her BBC Question Time appearance: “It was clear that a hostile atmosphere was whipped up, propped up by reports of inappropriate and sexist commentary in the audience warm-up session.
“A public broadcaster like the BBC, should be expected to be a model of impartiality and equality.
“The BBC cannot claim anything of the sort when analysis of the programme shows that the only black woman on the panel was jeered at and interrupted more times than any other panellist, including by the chair herself.
“The media must stop legitimising mistreatment, bias, and abuse against Ms Abbott as a black woman in public life. The BBC should be ashamed that their programming is complicit in such behaviour.”
The Momentum campaign, which supports Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, has released a petition pushing for the BBC to apologise to Abbott and a clip from Question Time criticising the show.
It has been signed by 2,342 people at the time of the writing and has a target of 3,000 signatures.
In a statement earlier today, the BBC rejected claims that the Question Time team treated Abbott unfairly before or during the show.
A BBC spokesperson said: “We firmly reject claims that any of the Question Time team treated any of the panel unfairly before and during the recording last night.”
Press Gazette has asked the corporation to respond to Abbott’s statement.
Fiona Bruce presented her first Question Time last week, having replaced former host David Dimbleby.
Press Gazette readers voted overwhelmingly in favour of Bruce “smashing” her first stint as chair in a Twitter poll last week.
Picture: Yui Mok/PA Wire