From The TimesApril 5, 2007
BBC report was a set-up, Romania claimsSam Coates, Political Correspondent
The Romanian Embassy has accused the BBC of “stage-managing” a report about immigrants living in Hyde Park.
Raduta Matache, the acting Romanian Ambassador, is demanding a meeting with Mark Thompson, the BBC’s Director-General, because she believes that Newsnight reporters fabricated some or all of an encampment in Hyde Park.
The BBC vehemently denied fabricating any element of the report, aired on Monday, and rejected claims by Mrs Matache that producers had asked a Romanian featured in the programme to bring his own tent to the shoot.
But the Royal Parks, which manages Hyde Park, has also cast doubt on the report, saying that it is “very sceptical” of the idea of an encampment in Hyde Park, particularly of the size shown by Newsnight.
Mrs Matache told The Times: “It’s clear they staged-managed the whole thing. The BBC has a right to examine how the restrictions on Romanians entering Britain work. But the BBC did it in such a way that they may have breached ethics of journalism. “We have a witness who has reasons to believe that part of the report was a set-up. We feel they have resumed the stereotyped coverage of Romanians.”
She said that several of the Romanians who participated in the film had contacted her.
The BBC admitted last night that it had paid Daniel, a 23-year-old Romanian who was one of the central participants. It also admitted that he was no longer sleeping in the encampment when the piece was filmed, despite calling it “home” at the start.
Mrs Matache said that she had not been in touch with Daniel, but hoped to speak to him in the next few days.
A BBC spokesman said: “Any suggestion that Newnight fabricated this story is false. The BBC has cast-iron evidence that the man featured in the report had been living in Hyde Park for some time. The report made it clear that [Daniel] was now off the streets and no longer sleeping in the park. He was paid a small facility fee which is standard procedure.”
A BBC source said that Daniel had got a place in a hostel the day before filming began.
Much of the controversy surrounds the scale of the encampment. Newsnight showed several tents, with cardboard used as flooring and food and drinks packaging and plastic bags littered around a makeshift camp-site. Daniel told the Newsnight reporter Tim Thewell: “It is very difficult here because here in the park stay too much people. It’s horrible.”
A spokesman for Hyde Park admitted that people occasionally slept rough there, but said that there were regular patrols to stop encampments from being set up.
Bruce Sparrow, head of media for the Royal Parks, said: “There has been an incident in Hyde Park over the last few day with this group trying to stay. We take issue with the implication that there has been a gathering over a number of days. Neither site gave any indication that they were on the scale of the pictures we’ve seen. The space simply wouldn’t allow them to put up these sorts of tents.
“There are regular patrols by the Metropolitan Police, while parks staff and ground maintenance contractors look out for evidence of rough sleepers.”
Last year the Romanian Embassy took isssue at media reports based on a leaked Home Office memo about the risks of a rise in some criminal offences that could be committed by citizens of Romania and Bulgaria, such as thefts from cash machines.
Ms Matache said: “We are very proud of Romanians who are living here and working here legally. I believe their achievements should be recognised and highlighted.”