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BBC TwoNewsnight
Last Updated: Wednesday, 24 May 2006, 15:36 GMT 16:36 UK
Mark Oaten on Newsnight

By Peter Barron
Newsnight editor

Mark Oaten
A number of viewers complained about our item about Mark Oaten.

Their complaints split into two main areas, first that he was an unsuitable choice of guest and second that it was an inappropriate choice as lead item. Let me respond to each in turn.

When Mark Oaten resigned as a leading member of the Liberal Democrats' front bench team following a sex scandal, Newsnight - in common with most of the media - requested an interview.

This would surely - by any yardstick - have constituted a newsworthy item. Until a few days previously he had been a contender to be the leader of the Liberal Democrats.

At that point Mr Oaten refused all interviews.

Eventually we persuaded him to talk for the first time on television about the circumstances of his resignation to Newsnight. He did not want to do a formal interview but instead suggested a film in which he would discuss these issues.

Editorial control

While the film was presented by Mr Oaten, most of its content was made up of interviews with Mr Oaten conducted by our producer. Mr Oaten was clearly trying to explain, although not excuse, his behaviour, but did so in response to our questioning and under our editorial control.

The result was, I think, a rare and extraordinary insight into the pressures and temptations involved in political life at Westminster. I accept that many disagree, but I strongly believe it was a worthwhile and newsworthy item.

Should we have led with it? Newsnight, unlike more formal news bulletins, is a hybrid between news and current affairs. Our primary aim every day is not necessarily to reflect the biggest stories in the world that day, but to reflect, analyse and discuss a range of current issues.

Westminster machine

The function or dysfunction of the Westminster machine is clearly an issue of huge current concern. We did not set out with a firm intention that this would be our lead item, but continued to weigh up our options in the course of the day.

By late afternoon we faced the choice between the Oaten film and an analysis of the Government's latest asylum figures. In terms of exclusivity, novelty and interest we concluded that the Oaten film should go first.

I accept that the circumstances of Mr Oaten's resignation will be distasteful to many viewers, but Newsnight's aim was not to justify his actions or assist his rehabilitation, it was to try to explore what it is that has led many politicians down the years to take these kind of risks.

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