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BBC boss warns presenters to cut the aggression after 'stop talking' row

The BBC’s director-general has said political interviews should not become ‘unnecessarily aggressive’ after the row over Nick Robinson’s interview with Boris Johnson.

The presenter ordered the Prime Minister to ‘stop talking’ in a tense interview on Radio 4’s Today programme earlier this month.

The interview, which angered some Tory MPs, also saw the presenter tell Mr Johnson ‘you are going to pause’ as they talked over each other.

The BBC’s director-general has said political interviews should not become ‘unnecessarily aggressive’ after the row over Nick Robinson’s interview with Boris Johnson. Mr Robinson is pictured above

Yesterday a message Tim Davie sent in response to a listener’s concerns about the interview was shared with Feedback, Radio 4’s audience response programme.

It said: ‘I think it is essential for us to robustly hold those in power to account but I do take the point that interviews should not become unnecessarily aggressive.

‘It is a subject that we regularly discuss internally as we try to get the balance right.

‘Nick Robinson has acknowledged that he should have used different language at one point in his Today interview with the Prime Minister.’ 

It came after a listener contacted Mr Davie raising concerns about ‘aggressive and combative reporting and interviewing’ and said the corporation should not adopt ‘shout-down tactics’.

A comparison between the treatment of Mr Johnson on Today and that of Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer the week before would appear to suggest that Sir Keir got an easier ride.

The presenter ordered the Prime Minister to ‘stop talking’ in a tense interview on Radio 4’s Today programme earlier this month

He was asked 16 questions in his Today interview and was interrupted nine times, whereas Mr Johnson faced 22 interruptions during 15 questions. The Today episode received 558 complaints about bias. A number of Tory MPs had responded with fury to the interview with Mr Johnson, calling it ‘downright rude’ and ‘slapstick’. 

Conservative Party co-chairman Oliver Dowden had said politicians ‘have the right to finish a sentence’. At its end Mr Johnson told Robinson: ‘It’s very kind of you to let me talk... I thought that was the point of inviting me on your show.’ 

But the interview did not appear to have upset the Prime Minister. He told GB News after that the BBC was a ‘great national institution’ that will be around ‘for a long time to come’.

The BBC has previously said in response to complaints about the interview that ‘there was no desire to appear rude’ and that after the broadcast Robinson himself ‘would have preferred to have used different language’.

But it added that Robinson had ‘covered a wide range of topics within a short space of time’ with the Prime Minister. It came amid growing tensions between the BBC and the Government over impartiality and the licence fee.

The interview drew comparisons with showdowns between politicians and BBC presenters, such as Jeremy Paxman’s interview with then home secretary Michael Howard, when he asked ‘did you threaten to overrule him [Derek Lewis, then head of HM Prison Service]?’ 12 times. In the Daily Mail, former Today presenter John Humphrys said he would not have dared speak to the prime minister like Robinson did, adding: ‘Why interview someone if you don’t want them to answer?’