Viewers complained to the BBC over an edition of the BBC Two programme aired on September 13, 2011, which featured an interview with author and well known atheist Professor Richard Dawkins, on his new book The Magic of Reality: How We Know What's Really True.
The complainants claimed that the presentation of Dawkins's book was biased and offensive, particularly in regard to Paxman's failure to challenge the anti-creationism subject matter due to his own beliefs.
In the interview segment, Paxman referred to religious beliefs as "hogwash", branded those who believe in the Genesis account of creation as "stupid people", and claimed that "religious movements the world over try to shape impressionable minds with myths and fables and fairy stories".
The BBC responded to the complaints by saying that it did not believe the item had an anti-Christian bias. It also claimed that the discussion was about Dawkins's new book, and "not about the merits of religion or science as a whole".
It was noted that Paxman had challenged the professor on a number of occasions, including on the issue of whether stories and myths were often more interesting and comforting than basic scientific explanation.
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However, the complainants were not satisfied with that response and the matter was escalated to the BBC Trust.
In a ruling today (July 31), the Trust's Editorial Standards Committee said that Paxman's comments had been offensive, but judged that the interview as a whole had not shown bias towards an anti-Christian position.
The Trust said that the Newsnight item had approached the controversial subject "with due impartiality in a way that was adequate and appropriate to the output given the subject and nature of the content".
However, the body added that Paxman's use of language in the interview would have been offensive to some viewers.
Whilst the use of the word "myth" was acceptable as it referred to Dawkins's book and its aim to teach children to replace myth with science, the Trust said that it was not justified for Paxman to refer to "hogwash" and "stupid people" in the context of religion.
"Although the Committee did not agree with the complainant that Mr Paxman's use of the terms 'religious hogwash' and 'stupid people' were intended to cause deliberate offence, particularly to those with religious views and beliefs, it nevertheless agreed that they were offensive to some of the audience and that there was no clear editorial purpose for their use in the context of this Newsnight item, taking account of generally accepted standards," said the Trust.
"The Committee therefore concluded that the item breached the Editorial Guidelines on Harm and Offence. It added that it regretted the offence caused to some viewers by the use of the terms 'religious hogwash' and 'stupid people' on this occasion."
The BBC said in a statement: "Newsnight notes the Trust's finding that viewers may have found some of the comments offensive, but also welcomes the finding that the piece achieved due impartiality."