Hardtalk or money talks? Saga of the aborted RPK interview

by Dr. Lim Teck Ghee | CPI

Hardtalk is a flagship BBC television programme that has gained a large global audience due to its style of tough questioning.

According to its media note, Hardtalk “asks the difficult questions and gets behind the stories that make the news — from international political leaders to entertainers; from corporate decision-makers to ordinary individuals facing huge challenges.”

This reputation of independence and fearlessly getting the stories behind the news is now blotted.

On Aug 10, Nicholas Davis Blakemore, BBC planning editor sent an e-mail note to Raja Petra Kamarudin asking if he would be interested in appearing in Hardtalk.

Following confirmation from RPK (readers can read the full correspondence here), the live interview was to have been conducted on Sept 1.

On Aug 29, Hardtalk producer Bridget Osborne informed RPK that the interview was cancelled. This abrupt turnabout is quite unprecedented in the programme’s 13-year history. According to Osborne, the cancellation was due to legal concerns.

Since then the BBC has issued a further note in which its Global News senior press officer Peter Connors said in an e-mail reply: “It became clear in our research any comprehensive interview with former Malaysia Today editor Raja Petra would prominently feature issues that are currently the subject of a current court case in Malaysia, which raise issues of defamation.”

It is unclear from Connors’ e-mail which “current court case” is being referred to.

Even more cryptic is the allusion to “defamation”. Who might it be that is likely to be defamed should RPK appear on air?

The BBC explanation is uncharacteristic of its traditional journalism ethos.

In the past, the programme has not been afraid of controversy arising from its choice of personalities and the discussions that arose during the course of their interviews. Surely the programme which prides itself on undertaking meticulous and in-depth research to accompany the interviews would have done its homework on the legal implications before any official invitation was extended by Blakemore to RPK.

Bear in mind that RPK is no suddenly arrived personality. The BBC had previously given press coverage to the Malaysian government’s persecution of him, and several times.

Nonetheless, Connors is correct to infer that the topic — once RPK started hard talking — may submerge viewers in turbulent waters.

Let’s just suppose the Q&A had gone ahead. If ‘the news’ is a court case as revealed by Connors, what might be ‘the difficult questions’ asked by Hardtalk to get the real story behind the sandiwara.

If it is the Altantuya murder case, then there is an added dimension. One of the accused was Abdul Razak Baginda who brokered arms deals worth billions of ringgit for the Malaysian Defence Ministry.

A political commentator, Mariam Mokhtar, writing in the Malaysian Mirror speculated on what could have caused BBC to pull the plug. Mariam is sceptical that the British broadcaster would be afraid of legal threats and suggests that the Hardtalk climbdown might be due to something “purely economic” and the pressure coming instead from the British government to protect its arms sales to Malaysia’s Defence Ministry.

For now, and until a whistleblower steps forward to provide details which can throw light on the unexpected turn of events, we can only ponder upon the reasons suggested by analysts who have been closely following this astonishing capitulation by Hardtalk.

Whist some of their views may appear to be highly speculative, it is however still inconceivable that the decision was arrived at by the Hardtalk programming staff themselves.

The possibility that higher levels of authority intervened to stop the programme should not be discounted. There is little doubt that if the interview had gone ahead, RPK would have spoken – if asked – at length on the Altantuya murder and his allegation of the Prime Minister’s involvement.

To clear the air, it is important for the Malaysian and British governments to issue a statement disclaiming any interference in the matter and for the Hardtalk senior management to be more explicit on what actually went on behind the scenes.

Silence will only lead to further suspicions that a conspiracy has been concocted to stymie RPK in his uncompromising pursuit of justice and freedom for Malaysia.

Meanwhile, there is possibly some deep soul-searching going on even now in the backroom of Hardtalk. The television programme before this had a reputation that was well-earned. Its producers and hosts know that as journalists, they have been doing a good job in upholding the integrity of the profession.

Didn’t Connors, the BBC spokesman, also reiterate that all their programmes “adhere to the same strict editorial guidelines which ensure complete editorial independence and impartiality”?

The professional pride of the Hardtalk crew might yet prompt them to come clean on the real reasons why they were denied the chance of giving RPK his airtime to tell the true story.

  1. #1 by TheWrathOfGrapes on Thursday, 2 September 2010 - 5:02 pm

    Hard to talk?

  2. #2 by undertaker888 on Thursday, 2 September 2010 - 6:48 pm

    hard my kok. BBC=Big Balls Carrier

  3. #3 by dagen on Thursday, 2 September 2010 - 6:54 pm

    Gut feeling – something really big is hiding here in the no-show. Keep digging RPK. Someone’s hand (again gut feeling only – possibly umno people) must be behind the cancellation. We want to know that someone and the real reason for the cancellation.

    Time for umno to yak chiu again.

  4. #4 by undertaker888 on Thursday, 2 September 2010 - 7:41 pm

    BBC = Bought By Ca$h

  5. #5 by haneasme on Thursday, 2 September 2010 - 8:39 pm


    I hairan bin ajaib le apabila memikirkan cara u berpolitik, apabila mana-mana pihak tidak mengikut ‘fail to accomodate yr taste of politics’ semuanya dikatakan tidak betul ada udang di sebalik batu le dll tetapi apabila pihak berkenaan mengikut tempo dan rentak u berpolitik u cepat-cepat kata ‘ see the foreign media make good judgement’.


    U tak ubah seperti ketam mengajar anak berjalan lurus, sedangkan u sendiri tidak betul. U mengatakan u tidak ‘racist’ tetapi u sebaliknya. Bro, luangkan masa u yang banyak tu untuk meneliti video clip ‘Negarakuku’ oleh anak angkat tersayang u tu. Teliti baris ke baris lirik yang di nyanyikan oleh si ce**** tu, kalau bukan menghina ugama seseorang tu tak mengapakan tetapi siap menjatuhkan maruah dan pegangan akidah seseorang. “Cina balik negeri asal’ it’s not so bad but degrading and insulting one religion is very serious matter.


    U tak tiada keberanian ke ? or u rasa sudah jadi ‘angel’ do no mistake or worst still u also ultra racist cuba melindungi orang sebangsa dengan u walaupun dia melakukan satu kesalahan yang amat serius macam musi……. namewee.

    Sekali lagi saya yakin, komen saya tidak akan disiarkan dalam komen blog anda kerana ia sesuatu yang menyakitkan telinga , hati anda serta penyokong-penyokong fanatik anda.

  6. #6 by sheriff singh on Thursday, 2 September 2010 - 8:41 pm

    They were afraid that one man, RPK, might bring down the entire BN Empire.

    Let us see if others like the CNN and Al Jazeera will seize this opportunity to interview RPK.

  7. #7 by Winston on Thursday, 2 September 2010 - 8:47 pm

    Hard Talk = Talk Cock!!

  8. #8 by haneasme on Thursday, 2 September 2010 - 8:56 pm


    Like i said before, u punya penyokong fanatrik, tatak otak selupa otak udang. Kalau tak percaya tengok dan buat penilaian atas komen # 7. This type of supporter u kata bagus ke?


  9. #9 by boh-liao on Thursday, 2 September 2010 - 9:56 pm

    Everywhere, money talks
    Well done, lawyer Faekah Husin – tell us more how Toyol stole $$$$ fr Selangor

  10. #10 by Jeffrey on Thursday, 2 September 2010 - 10:20 pm

    One of BBC’s editorial policies is that whenever legal problems are anticipated BBC content producers should seek the advice of BBC lawyers. In such a case, according to its stated editorial policy, BBC will consider:

    A. What effect breaking the law might have on the BBC?
    B. What the effect might be on people concerned?
    C. internationally, what effect on the BBC’s future coverage of the country or region?

    Which of the 3 weigh most on BBC to withdraw? If one believes what BBC’s Peter Connors it is about the current court case in Malaysia, which raise issues of defamation. What he means is that what RPK says may be subjudice relating to current court proceedings in Malaysia against him.

    There is something not very right in what Peter Connors implied about the offence of “subjudice” or contempt of court relating to current defamation case against RPK here, if one considers the following:-

    First, RPK is being tried by Malaysian Courts for defamation and not British Courts. Can Malaysian Courts trying his case here hold the BBC in UK for contempt? I find it hard to think our Courts could hold BBC for contempt anymore that they could do RPK when both in foreign soil. In fact there is some doubt whether HardTalk conducted in UK could constitute a subjudice/contempt of court offence when it is not committed directly on Malaysian soil where the court proceedings are supposedly conducted. In UK there are also no current defamation proceedings in British Courts against RPK – so there cannot be an offence of subjudice or commission of contempt of British Courts there in UK. I wonder if there’s an offence alleged to being committed, where is it committed – here or there in UK?? In fact where’s the court proceedings here for Sub Judice or contempt of court to apply? RPK is not in Malaysia. He has not been extradicted back to stand trial. Though charges have been formally filed in our courts, the fact is there is no current court proceedings actually being carried on here, and there’s doubt that they will ever be carried for so long he is not around here!

    Secondly, the whole idea of making subjudice or contempt of court punishable as an offence is to prevent a juror, witness or lay judge in the court from being unduly influenced by what RPK said of matters before the courts tried them. Now whilst British Courts still have juror, witness or lay judge – that’s why Sub Judice/Contempt of Court in this respect is relevant – here we have already abolished jury system. We don’t have juror or lay judges in Malaysian ourts for Sub Judice/Contempt of Court (though often bandied about to frighten big mouths) to really kick in! Our judges are supposedly not “lay” and ought not to be unduly influenced. There is also no need for witness in his defamation case. Everything he said could be read in MalaysiaToday and he did not deny that he wrote and uploaded the alleged defamatory contents in his Blog/WebSite. Besides if RPK once again in HardTalk talks rubbish and defames, then this would be a perfect opportunity for those defamed to bring at least a direct civil suit against him in British Courts in UK or lodge a police report there in Scotland Yard against him, considering the venue here is not a viable alternative in his absence here.

    Thirdly, I assume – and believe that BBC HardTalk a history of conducting interviews with Chinese dissidents that the Chinese Govt and courts had cases against, Hamas leaders that even the Israelis Govt and courts have cases against etc – so what’s so special about the Malaysian govt and courts having a case against RPK that makes such a difference in terms of legalities (as compared to other interviewees ‘on the run’) for RPK to be first invited for the talk and then as an after thought rejected and declined?

    If A. above on legalities is not that convincing, what’s the real reason BBC for the aboutface turn?

  11. #11 by aiD_kamikuP on Thursday, 2 September 2010 - 11:51 pm

    It is quite inconceivable that the experience and collective wisdom of the producers of this renowned BBC programme could not have foreseen “would prominently feature issues that are currently the subject of a current court case in Malaysia, which raise issues of defamation” when they extended out the inviation even as recent as Aug 10.

    I see a DARK interfering hand behind this.

  12. #12 by ekompute on Friday, 3 September 2010 - 1:15 am

    Sounds like Hardtalk cannot take on our RPK or is it that it cannot take on UMNO, what with UMNO’s cash-rich reserve? Whatever it is, RPK has made history in the real spirit of Malaysia Boleh!

  13. #13 by ekompute on Friday, 3 September 2010 - 1:26 am

    After reading Jeffrey’s post, I come out of it with the feeling that BBC has shot its own foot. It does seem that the withdrawal will cause tremendous damage to BBC’s reputation. That speaks volume of RPK’s hard talk, making BBC’s Hard Talk sounds impotent. It also makes one wonder how much money could be involved behind this withdrawal. Must be very very much! Money talks. Oh yes, I strongly suggest that BBC’s Hard Talk program be changed to BBC’s Money Talks.

  14. #14 by Jeffrey on Friday, 3 September 2010 - 7:19 am

    BBC has itself to blame for the present skepticism expressed by Malaysian viewers.

    The excuse based on legalities is disingenuous. I grant you that BBC may take the view that RPK is renowned for making all sorts of allegations that are difficult to confirm or deny independently. [Indeed RPK himself had inserted a caveat before in his blog that he often relied on ‘hearsay’ ie third party accounts that he himself could neither confirm nor deny). As to how he could get this kind of information he even admitted that with a little modest financial inducement his sources would sing like canary!]

    However the fact is RPK is a known quantity; his MalaysiaToday has been around for some time. BBC would have researched on his background, read the contents of his web site and have a measure of the quality of his opinions – before BBC proceeded to extend its invitation to him. If RPK were to make spurious allegations, then it is precisely Hard Talk’s job to confront and discredit these allegations as spurious and unsubstantiated in fairness to those alleged against. This is Hard Talk’s raison de etre – to clarify newsworthy controversies and expose falsehood by hard grilling. Isn’t this why it is “Hard Talk” and not “Soft Talk”? So to argue that one is aborting the show because of a respondent’s propensity to make unsubstantiated as well as unsubstantiable allegations is somewhat unconvincing against of HardTalk’s objective.

    And it cannot be the case that BBC invited him first and then only, after that, research and delve into the back ground of the quality of RPK’s opinions and his controversies with authorities and powers-that-be here, and suddenly dawn on BBC that interviewing him now constitutes legal risks.

    This storyline now conveyed by BBC – that research on RPK’s unsubstantiable allegations has caused it to think twice the real danger of airing RPK – assumes that BBC had not EARLIER ON researched and thought about this and legal consequences when they first invited him to ‘hard talk’ – a story line that is again hardly plausible.

    BBC now bears the onus to explain why the about-face turn due to after thought and whether the after thought is really grounded on legalities as it has asserted! I grant you that BBC’s lawyers might have a very low risk threshold. Most lawyers worth their salt evaluate risks and have low threshold but legal risks are managed – and in my earlier posting here I have also questioned and evaluated how real (or minimal) these legal risks to BBC are.

    However legal risks are only but one aspect of BBC’s editorial decision. In many instances editorial decision accepts and override these legal risks when balanced against BBC’s overarching imperative to “ask the difficult questions and get behind the stories that make the news” in certain cases.

    After all, HardTalk Programme has past precedents of previously interviewing all kinds of dictators, dissidents, and even crackpots, whether fugitives from law or refugee from political persecution, who have made countless wild allegations, and who were prosecuted and sued in their own countries (and in some cases even in other countries as well) – so what really makes this Malaysian dissident any different from these other interviewed before? What is the rational differentiating factor (“rational differentia”) that demarcates the line between RPK and rest of other dissidents and exiles?

    The onus is on BBC to now explain cogently what this rational differentia is and not hide behind the lame duck excuse of legalities. Otherwise its reputation for fearless and independent reporting is on the line.

  15. #15 by undertaker888 on Friday, 3 September 2010 - 7:48 am

    My kid says, BBC.= Betul Betul Celaka.
    I say (kopitiam style) BBC=Belly Belly Chicken

  16. #16 by wanderer on Friday, 3 September 2010 - 8:54 am

    The once fierceless Brits became the UMNO tamed prick!!! Close shop la BALLESS BRITISH CORP….did’nt I tell you, money can do wonders!

  17. #17 by JJx on Friday, 3 September 2010 - 10:37 am

    On the side note, here’s a write up about Lee Kee Hiong which DAP may want to look into;


    After the Tee Boon Hock & Ronnie Liu issues, I hope this is not true.

  18. #18 by sheriff singh on Friday, 3 September 2010 - 10:51 am

    They talk about freedom of information and the freedom and the independence of the press and media but Hard Talk just cannot Walk the Talk.

    Their reasons so far is just unconvincing, just alot of Tok-kok and hog-wash. They can and have succumb to pressure. Their independence is now questionable. They cannot take the heat.

    The British media and public should be fully informed and made aware about how BBC backed out on this interview, how it cannot remain erect but became limp.

    Hard Talk should now be labelled No Talk.

  19. #19 by Bunch of Suckers on Friday, 3 September 2010 - 2:11 pm

    “fanatrik”, I surprisingly to learn a new BM! Ha ha ha, under our racist UMNO/BN, everything is copying. Our national Anthem copied from Indonesia, so do our national robes and dances as Indonesian self-proclaiming on the street protests!!!

    Fanatically, our national flag pretty closer to Yanks with only exception in Moon eclipse! Conceptually, edges of the star is equivalent to number of states, which is similar to Yank’s little stars! “1Malaysia” slogan is derived from “OneChina” policy after our Pussi Master visit to China then came home announcing 1Malaysia…

    Well, whole bunch of lovely English words appear to be BM in wrong spellings! What a “terrifik” and “fanatik” surprise??? Parliament (direct word), Pos, Cos, Jealous, Operasi, ekonomi, seksi, terrifik, librari and etc etc…

    Why “immigrant” is not being used instead of “pendatagan”??? Ha ha ha

  20. #20 by cemerlang on Friday, 3 September 2010 - 8:48 pm

    Would be interesting if one day there is a hardtalk on the selection of issues that can be aired. Between the host and the producer. Raja Petra Kamarudin is very popular even with the Interpol, according to the news. If he wants, he can be a politician.

  21. #21 by undergrad2 on Sunday, 5 September 2010 - 8:31 am

    Countries like the U.K. still cling on to laws which seek to stifle freedom of speech. Why gag us in that way since we do not have jurors whose views could be contaminated. What about the internet?

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