Monday, 27 Mar 2023

Nick Ross defends Fiona Bruce over Question Time row

Nick Ross has said Fiona Bruce will be feeling “bruised and upset” for months after she was accused of trivialising domestic violence. The BBC Question Time presenter said she felt “appalled” and “deeply sorry” after she stepped in during a discussion about Stanley Johnson.

Journalist and panel member Yasmin Alibhai-Brown had said the 82-year-old’s alleged history of violence was “on record”.

Ms Bruce interrupted, telling Ms Alibhai-Brown and the audience: “I’m not disputing what you’re saying, but just so everyone knows what this is referring to, Stanley Johnson’s wife spoke to a journalist, Tom Bower, and she said that Stanley Johnson had broken her nose and that she’d ended up in hospital as a result.

“Stanley Johnson has not commented publicly on that. Friends of his have said it did happen, but it was a one-off.”

After the show, public figures including Labour MP Kate Osborne and Women’s Aid Chief Executive Farah Nazeer accused her of downplaying the seriousness of domestic violence.

The BBC defended Ms Bruce, saying she has an obligation to put forward a right of reply from an accused person or their representatives when a serious allegation is made about them and she was not expressing a “personal opinion”.

Mr Ross, who co-hosted Crimewatch with Ms Bruce, said it was unfair to target her when she was trying to correct the balance.

He accused Ms Nazeer of “throwing paraffin on the flames”.

Ms Nazeer had said: “At Women’s Aid we were shocked last night to see the Question Time presenter Fiona Bruce state, in response to a comment Stanley Johnson was a ‘wife-beater’, that ‘friends of his said it did happen, it was a one off’.”


She added: “This comment was unnecessary and irresponsible. We know at Women’s Aid that domestic abuse is rarely, if ever, a ‘one-off’, with the vast majority of abuse being a pattern of behaviour that includes different forms of abuse… Even if abuse is an isolated event, it would have still been domestic abuse, and this should never be minimised.”

Mr Ross, 75, told MailOnline it was “acceptable and reasonable” for those who have been affected by domestic abuse to feel angry.

But he added that those in positions of responsibility should “recognise the difficult position” his former co-host was in.

He continued: “I can understand why some women felt let down by Fiona and one or two might have even felt angry and felt that she minimised the impact. But that doesn’t excuse Farah Nazeer.

“She’s a CEO. She’s in a responsible position and yes of course she should say she’s heard from people who are upset about this, but she should recognise the difficult position Fiona found herself in and she should not have been throwing paraffin on the flames…

“[Fiona] will feel bruised and upset for months on end.”

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A statement issued last Friday by domestic abuse charity Refuge, for which Ms Bruce is a long-standing ambassador, said the presenter was “deeply upset” that the comments have been “triggering for survivors”.

The charity said: “We have spoken to Fiona today, and she is appalled that any of her words have been understood as her minimising domestic violence. We know she is deeply upset that this has been triggering for survivors.”

It added: “Fiona is deeply sorry that last night’s programme has distressed survivors of domestic abuse. Refuge stands by her and all survivors today.

“We continue to be appreciative of all the work Fiona does on behalf of Refuge and recognise the immense contribution she has made to our work to end domestic abuse and challenge violence against women and girls.”

On Monday it emerged Ms Bruce has stepped back from her role with Refuge.

In a statement, Ms Bruce, 58, said she was “required to legally contextualise” a response about Mr Johnson, the words were not an expression of her own opinions and she would never minimise domestic abuse.

Ms Bruce added: “I know survivors of domestic abuse have been distressed by what I was required to say on-air. For that, I am deeply sorry.

“I cannot change what I was required to say, but I can apologise for the very real impact that I can see it has had.

“I have been a passionate advocate and campaigner for all survivors of domestic abuse, and have used my privileged position as a woman in the public eye to bring this issue to the fore, notably in my work for over 25 years with Refuge.

“But following the events of last week, I have faced a social media storm, much of which mischaracterised what I said and took the form of personal abuse directed at me.

“The only people that matter in all this are the survivors, they are my priority.”

During the episode, journalist and Question Time panel member Yasmin Alibhai-Brown had said Mr Johnson’s alleged history of violence was “on record”.

The allegation came after reports Mr Johnson’s son, Boris Johnson, plans to nominate his father for a knighthood.

Ms Alibhai-Brown suggested the focus of the backlash on Ms Bruce was sexist, pointing out her original remark had been in response to fellow panellist Ken Clarke portraying Mr Johnson as a “good chap”.

She tweeted on Friday: “Please remember I pointed out Stanley Johnson’s wife-beating in response to Ken Clarke who chummily portrayed Johnson as a good chap. Why are viewers criticising Fiona Bruce not Clarke? Is that not sexism?”

Culture minister Julia Lopez said on Tuesday Ms Bruce behaved professionally in last week’s episode.

Ms Lopez’s comments were in response to Labour MP Clive Efford (Eltham), who said in the Commons: “The BBC prepared a statement to be read out at Question Time last week in the event that the assault by Stanley Johnson on his wife was raised by one of the panellists.”

He went on: “Now, the BBC had time to consider that statement, it was a pre-prepared statement put in front of the chair of the panel. What on earth was in their heads when they agreed that?”

Ms Lopez replied: “I am afraid without knowing the full details of the statement … I don’t know the statement to which he refers.

“The only commentary I have seen on this matter was whether Fiona Bruce had behaved professionally and from my reading of that situation, she had.”

In a statement on Friday, the BBC said: “Domestic abuse is abhorrent, and we would never wish to suggest otherwise.

“When serious allegations are made on air against people or organisations, it is the job of BBC presenters to ensure that the context of those allegations – and any right of reply from the person or organisation – is given to the audience, and this is what Fiona Bruce was doing last night.

“She was not expressing any personal opinion about the situation.”

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