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Last Updated: Thursday, 2 December, 2004, 16:44 GMT
Blunkett story 'cautious but vital'
By Mark Mardell
Chief Political Correspondent

Should the BBC be covering the David Blunkett visa inquiry? Are we delving into his personal life? And why has it been the lead story? Mark Mardell answers these and many other audience concerns.

David Blunkett and Kimberly Quinn
Mr Blunkett pictured with Kimberly Quinn at a function last year

If the BBC was not covering the allegations against David Blunkett we would rightly be accused of censorship.

They are serious allegations which could lead to the resignation of the home secretary and change the complexion of the government.

Our viewers and listeners have a right to know why this is the case.

The BBC is in fact extremely, but rightly, cautious of running stories about anyone's private life.

The story that David Blunkett was having an affair with a high profile married woman broke in the newspapers in late August.

Earlier this month there were numerous stories that he had a child by the woman, which the BBC did not pursue.

Private life

I have certainly had e-mails from individuals accusing us of "pro-Labour bias" because of this but I regard this as proper respect for an individual's private life.

Mark Mardell
To me, a threat to the future of the home secretary is an obvious lead
Mark Mardell

I have to admit if an affair alone could destroy the career of a minister we would have to think carefully about how to approach it.

So the first time we touched this was on Sunday 28 November when the Sunday Telegraph published a string of serious allegations which suggested that Mr Blunkett had misused his position as Home Secretary to help his former girlfriend.

We have to take a judgement whether allegations are credible and serious enough to report but, in this case, David Blunkett made the judgement for us by quickly ordering an inquiry.

It would simply have been extraordinary not to report this.

Once this decision has been made, it would simply be prissy and confusing to listeners and viewers not to put them in the proper context of the relationship.

I do understand when people argue about the prominence given a story: it's a favourite journalistic pastime to debate what should be "the lead" and it's an art not a science.

But to me, a threat to the future of the home secretary is an obvious lead.

David Blunkett is not only one of the top five people in the government, he is the minister with the heaviest work load of bills following the Queen's speech.

David Blunkett
Mr Blunkett denies helping speed the visa application through

Ministers are quite clear that his tough image is a key component of Labour's election strategy and that it would be a big blow for them to lose him.

That is why what happens to him is important.

'Sub-Marxist claptrap'

There are those who, from time to time, argue personalities are not important and only policies matter, and urge us to ignore what they regard as trivial.

I'm afraid I regard this as sub-Marxist claptrap which no reading of history bears out.

I'm long enough in the tooth to remember reading daily coverage of the troubles of David Mellor, which were partly of a sexual nature and which the BBC did not report.

We later reported his resignation.

Both decisions may have been right but it was an uncomfortable experience and felt as though we had been deliberately keeping the viewers in the dark, which in a sense we were.

It is not something we should be eager to repeat.



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