The BBC has had to apologise on air to a Tower Hamlets council employee for wrongly suggesting that she was unemployed and a drain on society. Insurance apprentice Shanene Thorpe, 21, was approached by Newsnight in May to be interviewed about her experiences of being a working mum – but found herself accused of claiming benefits as a lifestyle choice.
A petition signed by over 27,000 people demanded the BBC publically apologise for “publically humiliating” Thorpe “and all working mothers”.
On Monday night, presenter Gavin Esler said: “During an item on welfare reform, we broadcast an interview with Shanene Thorpe that unfairly created the mistaken impression that she was unemployed and wholly dependent on benefits and suggested that she was living off the state as a lifestyle choice.
“She has asked us to make clear she has been in work or in work-related education since leaving school.”
Thorpe said: “I was approached by the BBC to be interviewed on Newsnight to talk about what it’s like being a working mum struggling to pay rent and housing costs.
“I did not expect to be personally scrutinised, have judgements made about my choices and asked why I chose to have my child – a beautiful, sociable and happy three year old girl. The BBC has humiliated me.”
Thorpe claimed that in the full interview, reporter Allegra Stratton asked her why she chose to keep her child
Stratton said to Thorpe: “It’s a choice you’re making, and it’s a choice that comes with a price tag attached.”
After the interview, Stratton summarized the government’s plans for young people as saying “if you don’t have work, don’t leave home” – even though Thorpe is employed.
Tower Hamlets mayor Lutfur Rahman welcomed the apology and said the BBC had broken “the basic journalistic tenets of accuracy and fairness.”
He said: “The government is forcing through unprecedented changes to the welfare state that will severely impact on people’s lives.
“It is important for the media to avoid crude stereotypes of welfare claimants and single mothers, which exacerbate the difficult situations that they may be facing.”