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Saturday, 15 September, 2001, 17:15 GMT 18:15 UK
BBC chief apologises for terror debate
Question Time
Viewers complained to newspapers and the BBC
The BBC's director general Greg Dyke has issued a personal apology for Thursday's controversial Question Time programme on the US hijack attacks.

Despite the best efforts of David Dimbleby and the panel, there were times in the programme when the tone was not appropriate

Greg Dyke
More than 2,000 viewers rang the corporation to complain about the current affairs programme, during which strong anti-American sentiments were expressed by many members of the studio audience.

Mr Dyke said he "would like to apologise to the viewers who were offended by it". He added that it was an inappropriate programme to broadcast live just two days after the suicide attacks on America, and should have been recorded and edited.

He has also personally apologised to the former US ambassador to Britain, Philip Lader, a panel member on the programme, for any distress he might have felt during some of the debate's fiercest exchanges.

'Entirely proper debate'

Greg Dyke did not see the Question Time show go out live because he was attending a television conference in Cambridge.

However, after reviewing a tape of the programme, the director general decided to amplify the general apology the BBC issued on Friday.

Much of the programme was an entirely proper debate on how the US should react to the atrocities of the past week

Greg Dyke
"Much of the programme was an entirely proper debate on how the US should react to the atrocities of the past week," he said in a statement issued on Saturday.

"That debate has been taking place in all media since Tuesday.

"However, despite the best efforts of David Dimbleby and the panel, there were times in the programme when the tone was not appropriate, given the terrible events of this week.

He added: "I have today spoken to Phillip Lader, the former US Ambassador to the UK who was on the panel, and apologised for any distress the programme may have caused him."

Mr Lader had been attempting to express his sadness over the attacks when a number of audience members had shouted him down to voice their anti-US opinions. Mr Lader had looked close to tears.

At times, David Dimbleby struggled to control the discussion as voices and tempers became raised.

Some audience members said the US was ultimately responsible for the attacks because of its foreign policy.

Audience 'imbalance'

Most of the viewers who rang the BBC to complain about the Question Time edition said it had been insensitive to broadcast the programme so soon after the disaster.

Others telephoned newspapers and the Broadcasting Standards Commission.

Shadow culture secretary Tim Yeo welcomed the apology from Mr Dyke and called the programme "an error of judgment by the BBC".

"The programme will have given needless distress to many grieving families," he said.

The panel on the programme also included former Liberal Democrat leader Paddy Ashdown, Labour left-winger and Father of the House, Tam Dalyell, and columnist Yasmin Alibhai-Brown.

The aim of the programme, which picks audiences to get a broad range of political views, was to have a frank discussion about the attacks.

Many of those who rang to complain felt that there had been an imbalance in the audience, with a disproportionate number of people from an anti-American perspective.

The BBC's Media Correspondent, Nick Higham, said there was a recognition in the corporation that the audience could have been more representative of wider opinion.

The BBC's Nick Higham reports
"It degenerated at times into a shouting match"
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