Belfast Telegraph

BBC Northern Ireland in Farage complaint - interviewee 'incited hate,' says top medic

Nigel Farage’s milkshake incident
Nigel Farage’s milkshake incident
Dr Michael O’Brien
Joel Taggart

By David Young

A senior Northern Ireland medic has accused BBC NI of contributing to the legitimising of 'milkshake' attacks on politicians - and is considering a complaint to industry regulator Ofcom.

Dr Michael McBrien (54), a consultant anaesthetist at the Royal Victoria Hospital, took issue with a recent episode of Good Morning Ulster.

The show featured an incident where a milkshake was thrown at Nigel Farage. Mr McBrien felt a section of comment on the attack was allowed to proceed too long without challenge.

It comes as the BBC finds itself embroiled in controversy around Jo Brand. She has apologised after suggesting that politicians she disagreed with should have acid thrown over them.

Mr McBrien's complaint against BBC NI's Good Morning Ulster episode pre-dates the Jo Brand furore - but, he said, raises many of the same issues. It focuses on an interview broadcast on May 21, in which comedian Kate Smurthwaite and political commentator Kevin Meagher were invited to discuss "Is throwing a milkshake a first step towards political violence, or is it legitimate protest?"

The segment, overseen by broadcaster Joel Taggart, followed the Farage incident the previous day.

In his complaint to the BBC, Mr McBrien wrote: "In the interview by Joel Taggart with Kate Smurthwaite on Good Morning Ulster, the interviewee was given complete freedom to incite hatred towards Nigel Farage, and other politicians who did not share her left-wing political opinions.

"Asked about Mr Farage having been subject to a member of the public throwing a milkshake at him, Smurthwaite said 'I'm not worried about stopping it'; [and] 'I am surprised this is the worst some of these politicians are getting.' Mentioning Mr Farage by name, she said, 'I'm surprised the worst he has got is a milkshake.'

"These comments went completely unchallenged by the interviewer," he claimed.

In a response to Mr McBrien's complaint, Mark Adair, BBC NI's head of corporate and community affairs, rejected claims the piece in any way legitimised or trivialised criminal actions.

He wrote that the attack on Mr Farage had prompted widespread commentary, and the episode's intention was to reflect and facilitate debate about the issues raised, within the context of the charges brought against Paul Crowther, the alleged attacker.

"We included and counterpointed differing opinions on what happened in Newcastle and understand that some listeners will have disagreed strongly with what both contributors had to say," Mr Adair wrote.

"We accept that the presenter could have intervened in relation to the specific hypothetical situation that Ms Smuthwaite described, but do not think that it amounted to a call 'to criminal action or disorder' as per Section 3.1 of the Ofcom Code.

"We've reflected also on the tone of the introduction to this piece and whether it might have had the effect of seemingly trivialising the issues being debated. We think that this was offset by what followed, including questions and interventions by the programme's presenter."

Last night Dr McBrien said he was "not terribly impressed" by the BBC's response, and may take the complaint to Ofcom.

He added: "It's the first time I've ever written a complaint to the BBC. It's not from political opinion, but from a citizen's opinion."

A BBC spokeswoman said: "Dr Michael McBrien received a detailed response from us at Stage One of the BBC complaints process. He can now ask for his concerns to be looked at by the BBC's Executive Complaints Unit."

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