Page last updated at 11:14 GMT, Saturday, 3 October 2009 12:14 UK

Marr's questioning of PM defended

Gordon Brown
The interview took place on the eve of the Labour Party conference

The editor of the Andrew Marr Show has defended asking Prime Minister Gordon Brown whether he was dependent on prescription drugs "to get through".

The question on last Sunday's programme provoked some criticism from viewers and MPs, with Lord Mandelson deploring its "personal intrusiveness".

Barney Jones told BBC's Newswatch programme the question had not been intended as a bombshell.

And Andrew Marr has said he believed the question was fair.

In the interview Mr Marr told Mr Brown he wanted to ask about "something everybody has been talking about in the Westminster village... A lot of people in this country use prescription painkillers and pills to help them get through. Are you one of them?"

The prime minister replied: "No. I think this is the sort of questioning which is all too often entering the lexicon of British politics."

Context

At a conference fringe meeting Lord Mandelson criticised the "degree of personal intrusiveness" in the interview and said he did not have "the foggiest idea" what Andrew Marr had been talking about.

Barney Jones, editor of the Andrew Marr show said: "I want to say, right from the off, that it's important to take the context, that this was a half-hour interview and the tone throughout, including that section on health, was firm, but not hectoring."

"This was not some kind of maverick idea thrown in by our presenter, nor was it intended to be in any way some kind of bombshell or exploratory issue.

"We certainly didn't intend it to overshadow the interview in the way that it has. I'm hugely disappointed that 20 seconds has really obliterated the 30 minutes."

He added he regretted they did not put more context in to make clear the origin of the story.

The BBC received hundreds of complaints from viewers about the interview.

Mr Marr told MediaGuardian.co.uk: "It was a tough question and I clearly thought carefully before asking it. I decided it was a fair question to ask or I wouldn't have asked it."

The former BBC political editor said he did not refer the question up to senior executives in advance, explaining: "I am given authority to ask what I think is appropriate."

He added: "Nobody in No 10 or in the government have contacted me about this at all. I have had no contact from anybody, probably to their credit."



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