My week: Peter Barron, Newsnight editor


My week started eventfully and kept going. On Sunday I was just back from watching a rare Spurs victory when a friend phoned to ask if I had any plans for the following night. I didn’t. ‘I may have two tickets for Led Zeppelin,’he said.

Weeks earlier I had, along with millions of others, registered for tickets, but had long since given up hope of seeing the great band, perhaps the greatest band. Now we would go to the ball.


We arranged to take the river boat to the O2 from Waterloo pier. We swigged Jack Daniel’s from miniature bottles. It was very rock ‘n’ roll.

Once there we bumped into Billy, the lead singer of Letz Zep, a tribute band who had appeared on Newsnight a few weeks ago.

People kept coming up and saying ‘Has anyone ever told you you look like Robert Plant?’We discussed the tracks we each hoped they’d play, beyond the obvious. Stevie Winwood brushed past, Naomi Campbell stomped, Liam Gallagher swaggered.

With minutes to go we got very nervous. What if they were awful and embarrassing? They weren’t.


The Jack Daniel’s last night was probably a mistake. On Newsnight this week we had been running a project called Boozenight about Britain’s growing problem with alcohol.

As part of that a few members of the team, including Kirsty Wark and me, had agreed to keep a diary of our alcohol consumption over the last seven days. It appears that Brits have been drinking more than they thought because drinks, like that 13 per cent New World wine, have been getting stronger.

Under the new units system it’s extremely easy – especially at this time of year – to go over the recommended limit of 14 units for a woman and 21 for a man. I hit 29.

Not something that would have worried Led Zeppelin’s John Bonham, who regularly had at least that for breakfast, but look what happened to him.


On Wednesday, a big bust-up. Newsnight ran an investigation into a recent report by the think tank Policy Exchange which claimed that extremist hate literature was on sale at a quarter of the 100 British mosques it had surveyed.

Newsnight had planned to run an exclusive on the original report back in October, but we held off when discrepancies came to light in some of the receipts given to us to support the claims. That led to an almighty row with Policy Exchange, volleys of legal letters and an electric encounter between its research director Dean Godson and Jeremy Paxman on Wednesday’s programme.


If we didn’t take the drinks diary entirely seriously, Thursday’s programme sobered us up. We’d asked the film-maker Paul Watson to revisit, for Newsnight, his extraordinary chronicle of alcoholism: Rain in My Heart.

The chaos, destruction and despair he showed made many of us vow not to touch a drop again – at least not for a day or two. But there was some uplifting news. A year ago the original documentary told the story of Mark – desperately addicted, bright yellow skin, heading for death. Twelve months on, incredibly and probably because he saw what he had become on TV, he has kicked the booze and is getting his life back on track.


On Friday, a day off. Took the children to the Christmas fair in Hyde Park. Helter skelter, hot dogs, meet Santa, which if you’re under 10 is about as good as seeing Jimmy Page in action. Mercifully the phone hardly rings at all.


In Saturday’s Daily Telegraph, the former editor and Policy Exchange chairman Charles Moore took up the cudgels of the Wednesday row with an extraordinary attack on Newsnight, Paxman and me.

He seemed to be saying that despite questions over authenticity we should have run the report anyway and that concerns about suspicious receipts hardly matter because the bigger story is the rise of Islamic extremism. A very strange journalistic approach, I thought.

Our story matters because, while hate literature is undoubtedly on sale in some British mosques, how can we trust the very serious accusations of this high-profile report if some of the research is flawed?

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