Mandelson phoned BBC after being `outed'

 

The British Secretary of Trade and Industry, Mr Peter Mandelson, telephoned both the BBC and the Press Complaints Commission for help after being "outed" by a columnist, Matthew Parris, on television 10 days ago, it emerged last night.

The morning after the remarks on BBC Newsnight by Mr Parris, an ex-Tory MP, had generated press headlines, the Trade and Industry Secretary rang the BBC chairman, Sir Christopher Bland, to protest at the invasion of his privacy, "as he was fully entitled to do," BBC officials say.

He also approached the PCC, whose chairman is the former Tory cabinet minister, Lord Wakeham, over what his allies regard as harassment by the "gay Gestapo". In both instances he sought protection from further comment on radio, TV and in print.

Following the programme, presented by Jeremy Paxman, the BBC subsequently reminded producers of its guidelines about unjustifiable intrusion into the private lives of individuals unless "broader public issues" were involved. It annoyed many staff who felt that the wording of the memo gave the impression Mr Mandelson was getting special treatment.

The PCC was unable to help, though it says it responded as it would have done for any such caller, as does the BBC. Lord Wakeham explained last night: "We say to the people concerned that we are not in the position of pre-censoring any newspaper. But if you are concerned that the [PCC's] Code of Conduct is about to be breached we will speak to the appropriate person at the newspaper and remind them there is concern. They must decide whether or not it is a breach," he said. No action was taken in this instance.

Last night Mr Jimmy Mulville, executive producer of Have I Got News for You, described the Mandelson ban as "chilling". Last night's edition of the BBC2 show obeyed the letter of the ruling but featured an almost continuous stream of jokes about the Trade Secretary.

But Mr Mulville said a section where the American comedian Jackie Mason confused Mr Mandelson with the former Welsh secretary, Mr Ron Davies, did have to be removed from the broadcast version.