31 DECEMBER 1994, Page 21

LETTERS Conspiracy corner

Sir: First Dominic Lawson telephones me to complain about the way the Nine O'Clock News covered the Richard Gott story, while admitting he hadn't seen it (though he knew a man who had). Then he writes an editorial with similar disregard for the facts (Leader, 17/24 December). Our report did not 'repeatedly' call The Spectator right-wing — it did once. It also happens to be true. I know this is hard to take, but not everyone in the country knows what The Spectator is. What's more, the epithet was relevant: or was I wrong to detect more than a touch of schadenfreude in your choice of the Guardian's 'Aitken affair' headline for your front cover, com- plete with an obligatory hammer and sick- le?

Secondly, we interviewed the Guardian because it, not The Spectator, was the target of the allegations. What a curious thing to do in the short time available to us after Mr Gott's resignation! And, no, we couldn't start the story before then because of the clear risk of libel.

Thirdly, Dominic Lawson knows as much about the political views of the producers of the Nine O'Clock News as he knew about our coverage when he telephoned to corn- Plain (and as much as I do) — which is to say, nothing.

It is outrageous to link Mr Gott's alleged misdemeanours with the murder of the Bulgarian defector and former BBC jour- nalist, Georgi Markov, and to imply there- fore that the BBC should have accepted The Spectator story at face value. Or has journalistic hyperbole, as well as a reluc- tance to face the facts, descended upon you all for Christmas?

Malcolm Balen Editor, Nine O'Clock News, BBC, Television Centre, London


Dominic Lawson adds: The editor of the Nine O'Clock News clearly doesn't watch Ins own programme either, The Spectator was twice referred to as right-wing in a two- and-a-half minute item. Mr Balen also fails to explain why the BBC does not describe the Guardian as 'left-wing'. It also happens to be true. I know this is hard to take at the BBC, but not everyone in the country Knows what the Guardian is.