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BBC admits bias against British cardinal

The BBC has admitted bias in a story on Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor's response to sex abuse allegations, on the Today program on its serious talk outlet Radio 4.

The admission follows a complaint from an interviewee, the veteran former Tablet and Daily Telegraph journalist Clifford Longley.

Brought on to represent the Church's viewpoint, Longley argued that the discussion was not conducted in a balanced way.

He said that while he was challenged repeatedly over his claims, the other speaker - Michele Elliot, of the anti-bullying charity Kidscape - was allowed to make controversial claims about the cardinal unchallenged, including an incorrect accusation that he had broken the Nolan guidelines on standards of behaviour in public life.

Longley accused the BBC of a "serious abuse of impartiality" in its manipulation of the program last Nonvember in which he agreed to be interviewed. The BBC upheld his complaint and admitted that there was a "fault in the discussion, and thus in the overall balance of the item as a whole" and that Mr Longley was challenged in a way the other speaker was not.

But in a letter to Mr Longley revealed in the Catholic Herald, Fraser Steel, the head of the BBC's complaints unit, went much further in his criticism of the Today report.

Mr Longley said yesterday that Mr Steel's remark constituted the first recognition by the BBC that the program's pursuit of the cardinal "has crossed the line of acceptable journalism, at least once".

Daily Telegraph (London)

British Cardinal contests fresh abuse claims (18/12/02)
British Cardinal stands up to media on abuse case (27/11/02)
BBC | BBC">Radio 4 | 'Today' program | Accountability
Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor homepage
Nolan Review
Clifford Longley website

19 May 2003