Jeremy Paxman’s Newsnight interview with Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy, in which the politician was grilled about his drinking habits, has been criticised by the Broadcasting Standards Commission “for exceeding the acceptable boundaries for broadcast”.
The commission upheld two complaints against Paxman and Newsnight from viewers who found his questioning of Kennedy during the interview, broadcast on 17 July last year, “offensive and insulting.” Paxman opened a barrage of drink-related questions with: “Does it trouble you that every politician to whom we have spoken to in preparing for this interview has said the same thing – ‘You’re interviewing Charles Kennedy, I hope he’s sober’?” He then asked Kennedy: “How much do you drink? You don’t drink privately? By yourself, bottle of whisky, late at night?” The interview caused outrage among MPs, with Leader of the House Robin Cook suggesting the BBC should not “seek to dumb down and compete with the bottom end of the market”.
In the BBC’s statement to the commission, it said that although the questioning of politicians did not often involve personal matters, “there was nevertheless an established tradition of doing so in certain circumstances”.
But the BSC upheld the complaints. “The presenter’s prolonged questioning of Mr Kennedy in relation to personal matters had been overly intrusive in nature and tone,” it stated.
Paxman did apologise the day after the interview, conceding: “Maybe there was one question too many on drink.”