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BBC broke guidelines over Diane Abbott payments

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Diane Abbott

© PA Images / John Phillips/EMPICS Entertainment

The BBC breached its own editorial guidelines by paying almost £7,000 to Dianne Abbott MP to appear on BBC One's This Week programme after she became shadow minister for public health, the BBC Trust has said.

Abbott has become a familiar face on This Week, discussing the latest developments in UK politics alongside presenter Andrew Neill and fellow panellist, the former Tory MP Michael Portillo.

The BBC's own guidelines state that the corporation should not "normally" pay MPs or anyone associated with a political party for appearances on BBC channels in which they "are speaking as a member of their party or expressing political views".

But they can be paid for acting as contributors based on their expertise outside of politics or for their celebrity, as long as they do not express their own party political views. In this case they are usually paid a "disturbance fee".

However, Abbott declared to Parliament in July this year that she has received £6,712 for eight appearances on This Week since joining the Labour front bench in October 2010.

A complainant appealed to the BBC Trust that it was wrong for Abbott, as a shadow minister, to profit financially via the BBC licence fee for expressing her political opinions and discussing party policy on the show.

The BBC had argued that Abbott's appearances on This Week were the "exception" to its editorial guidelines, due to her "hybrid role as a co-presenter and a panellist" on the show.

BBC logo at BBC Television Centre
"She was being paid to perform a role outside of her normal duties as an MP, bringing her own presentational skills and unique on-air presence. The work involved considerable preparation and unsocial hours mid-week," the BBC Executive had insisted.

In a report published today (August 30), the Trust committee noted that the BBC had already acknowledged Abbott had received "substantial appearance fees" since she took up her role on the Labour front bench in 2010.

However, the body said that the BBC's reliance on the word "normally" in its editorial guidelines to justify the payments was "incorrect" and in fact the corporation should not have paid the fees at all.

"The Committee accepted that when MPs are asked to contribute to programmes on non-political subjects, or where they are appearing on the basis of their expertise outside politics or of their celebrity, the Guidelines do allow for an appearance fee; however, the Committee concluded that this was not the case with regard to Ms Abbott's appearances on This Week," said the Trust.

"The Committee noted that the BBC, in response to the appeal, had said that any future payments to Ms Abbott for her appearances on This Week would be based on a realistic disturbance fee.

"The Committee agreed that the proper application of the Guidelines to Ms Abbott's appearances since taking her position on the front bench was the one which the Executive had chosen to adopt in response to the appeal to the BBC Trust.

"The Committee agreed that payment of a realistic disturbance fee would have been appropriate under the Guidelines; however, the payment of such substantial appearance fees to Ms Abbott since she took up her front bench position in 2010 was a breach of the Guidelines."

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