BBC busted again, UK’s field study disproved aid distortion claims | Ethiopia

On Wednesday, September 21, 2011, UK’s Secretary of State for Development Aid, Andrew Michell, emphatically dismissed allegations of systemic political distortion of British aid in Ethiopia.

That was in an interview BBC Newsnight’s presenter Jeremy Paxman hosted as a follow-up to the allegations of aid misuse made in his last August program.UK Secretary of State for Development Aid, Andrew Mitchell

The first three questions and answers were as follows:

Newsnight: Andrew Mitchell do you accept that British aid used for political purposes in Ethiopia?
Mitchell: No, I don’t – but I do accept that there are serious allegations made in your film and those allegations need to be answered. And I raise these allegations when I meet Ethiopian ministers, I’m going to meet one in a few minutes and when I see the Prime Minister Meles I always raise these allegations with him.

Newsnight: But you have never seen them proved?
Mitchell: Well one of the allegations which you mention is about the misuse of food support and we had that investigated by officials in some detail about six or seven months ago and they found no evidence at all of systemic misuse of food support. So I accept completely that these allegations must be looked at – that is the position of the British government, but they are allegations.

Newsnight: Just to be clear about that particular allegation which you say was investigated – did your investigators go to Ethiopia – to the places in question?
Mitchell: Yes, my investigators are the officials who are based in Ethiopia and run the British development programme there. And they investigated these allegations – and as I say they discovered that there was no systemic misuse of food support. (
See the text of the interview here).

After the interview, Newsnight’s presenter Jeremy Paxman misled his audience, by making the following statement:BBC Newsnight Jeremy Paxman

‘Well after we recorded that interview the Department for International Development clarified that no department official actually been into the field to specifically investigate allegations of misuse of aid, there investigation was they say a desk based study conducted from Addis Ababa which did not seek to prove or disprove allegations of distortion.’

However, two days later, on Friday September 23, Newsnight was forced to retract the misleading remark as follows:

The Department for International Development has confirmed that, as Secretary of State Andrew Mitchell made clear on Wednesday’s programme, DFID officials in Ethiopia did make regular field visits to look into the allegations of aid distortion.

Those field visits — and dozens of similar visits by other donor agencies — made clear that there was no systemic distortion for political reasons in the distribution of aid.

This reminds us of the allegation of food aid misuse BBC made last year, only to apologize for it..

In fact, one would find it difficult to take seriously Newsnight’s Jeremy Paxman statements, given the erroneous claim he made in the following part of the interview.

Newsnight: And do you also believe that this government won 99.6 per cent of the vote in the elections of 2005?
Mitchell: Well the independent analysis of the election was that it wasn’t perfect but it was in African terms quite good and better than the previous election.

However, the Ethiopian ruling party didn’t receive 99% of the votes in the 2005 elections, nor in 2010. Perhaps, Paxman overheard about election 2010, where the ruling party, which is a coalition of four, alongside its six regional allies obtained almost all the parliamentary seats, though the 10 parties collectively received less than 70% of the votes. The outcome is a function of the first-past-the-post electoral system.

But this must be a rocket science for Jeremy Paxman.



1. Reflections on BBC and TBIJ Media Onslaught – (in this blog) a detailed analysis of all the stories posted by BBC’s partner ‘the Bureau of Investigative Journalism’ on the issue at the time.

2. ‘s investigative of BBC Newsnight’s allegations – Video (link))


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Daniel Berhane

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