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Dec 5, 2010

BBC boss backs Panorama probe

BBC director general Mark Thompson has defended the organisation after a Panorama expose was accused of severely undermining England's chances of hosting the 2018 World Cup.

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It is reported that FIFA president Sepp Blatter spoke of the "evils of the media" in a speech to the executive committee immediately before they voted to award the 2018 tournament to Russia and the 2022 tournament to Qatar.

That has been interpreted as an attack on the Sunday Times, which published cash-for-votes allegations that led to the suspension of two exco members, and Panorama, which alleged that a further three had taken bribes between 1989 and 1999.

The programme was broadcast just three days before a vote in which an England bid that had a strong technical report and an impressive presentation was knocked out in the first round of voting after securing the support of just two members.

However, Thompson says the BBC was right to broadcast the controversial programme, despite being criticised by the England bid team prior to the vote.

Thompson said on the Andrew Marr Show that the BBC was "right" to screen the show, as it had "significant information about matters of very serious public interest and public concern".

"They spent time checking the provenance of this information, putting a number of specific allegations to the people involved, as we must do, and when the programme was ready to transmit, we transmitted it," he said.

"I have to say that I believe that in the end, although I understand that there are often reasons to believe that transmitting a programme might be impolitic or inconvenient, if you believe that you have a matter of real public concern to broadcast, there have got to be overwhelmingly powerful reasons for not broadcasting.

"I believe we were right to broadcast and I believe we have very strong support from the British public in broadcasting."

However, in his programme notes for Sunday's game against West Ham, Sunderland chairman Niall Quinn said the programme did not help England's cause.

"The truth of what happened will all come out in due course and I am all for freedom of speech, but we will never be able to accurately measure how much the Panorama programme may have impacted on the bid," Quinn wrote.

"What I would say to the people who thought it was in the public interest to broadcast that programme a few days before - rather than a few days after - the decision is, 'Come and explain that to the people of Sunderland'. Come and explain that no new hotels will be built, explain that the infrastructure that was promised and planned can't be rolled out now and explain what's happened to the jobs that would have been created'."

Meanwhile, as the inquest continues into England's failure in Zurich, exco member Marios Lefkaritis, who has been accused of breaking a promise to support the country by sources in the bid team, has refused to reveal how he voted.

"Maybe I voted [for England], maybe I didn't," he said. "I'm not denying anything. I'm not accepting anything.'

"The member from that England bid should come and tell me. Maybe he is dreaming something. Maybe he thought I said, maybe, I don't know what people can think when they are working very hard. I know the England bid people and I know that some of them are extremely good friends of mine and I didn't get that impression.

"If something is a private conversation then it is a private conversation. My name is very clear so I don't want to clear my name.

"I know it was a good presentation. The English bid was a very good bid. All the European bids were very good. This was not something unusual. It was a normal bidding process but unfortunately only one has to be a winner. What can you do?"

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