This article first appeared in the Sunday Times.
BBC pressure leads Paxman to bin article criticising EU
It is not easy to muzzle a journalistic pitbull, but Jeremy Paxman has withdrawn an article critical of the European Union from a forthcoming issue of Radio Times after coming under pressure from the BBC.
The article was commissioned by the magazine to coincide with Paxman in Brussels, a BBC1 documentary about the EU presented by Paxman and due for transmission on May 19.
Typically pugnacious, Paxman expressed doubts about the EU, its bureaucracy and, in particular, the loss of Britain’s sovereignty. While he stopped short of advocating Brexit, Paxman’s strongly expressed views raised concern that the impartiality of his documentary could be compromised.
In publicity material for Paxman in Brussels, the BBC states that “Jeremy Paxman takes an impartial look at the fundamentals of what actually goes on between the UK and the EU”.
It is understood that Paxman had to deal with a senior BBC executive over the article and was unhappy with proposed changes so decided to pull the piece. Radio Times, which was sold by the BBC in 2011, has a weekly circulation of around 800,000 as well as a substantial online audience.
This weekend, the magazine said it was “disappointed” not to be able to publish the article. Paxman’s documentary, during which he meets EU officials and politicians, is one of four about Europe from senior broadcasters. The other presenters are Nick Robinson, whose programme has already aired, Laura Kuenssberg and Mishal Husain.
Paxman’s has been made by Brook Lapping, a TV production company whose documentaries include Inside Obama’s White House on BBC2, and Putin, Russia and the West.
There have also been minor disagreements over what can be said in the programme. The script is yet to be finalised before the voiceover is recorded.
Paxman presented BBC2’s Newsnight for 25 years until his departure in 2014. He still hosts University Challenge. The 65-year-old has described himself as a “One Nation Tory”.
He was recently quoted as saying that he expects Britons to vote to remain in Europe. “Yet Britain’s standing in the world is now much reduced from what it was,” he added. “The problem with the EU is that it makes that abundantly clear.”
In a speech in March, Paxman said: “For the past 40 years, power has been taken from politicians and parliaments, and given to international organisations …
Norman Tebbit [the Conservative politician] said people do not like being ruled by those who don’t speak their language. It sounds small-minded, but I think there is something in it.”
Paxman declined to comment.