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Listen: Sarah Montague’s disastrous turn on Today

24 September 2015

10:40 AM

24 September 2015

10:40 AM

Oh dear. Sarah Montague is not having a good day. The Today presenter managed to make not one, not two, but three gaffes while hosting today’s Radio 4 show.

1. Things got off to a bad start when Montague began her interview with Simon Kirby, the Chief Executive of High Speed Two, on the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s trip to China for investment for the rail network. Alas, Montague appeared not to have managed to get her head around the purpose of the trip; repeatedly grilling Kirby on whether the project is doomed if the Chinese don’t give up to £12bn to help finance it. He had to explain several times that China are actually being asked to bid for £12bn of contracts:

SM: Could it be done without Chinese money?
SK: The point is today is not announcing Chinese funding of the programme
SM: Look I totally understand that as I made the point that he’s pitching to the Chinese ‘look we’ve got this, put your money here’. What I’m wondering is from the UK’s point of view, has anybody else got the money to do this?
SK: The current plan is for the first phase of the programme to be funded by the taxpayer. What the Chancellor’s saying today, he’s saying to international competition ‘bring your expertise, collaborate with British industry to help to bring us new technologies that don’t exist in this country’. It’s not about investing Chinese money in high speed rail today.

The penny then began to drop…

SM: Why is he going there? Sorry, all the information we have is that he’s going there to get the Chinese to invest in this line
SK: I think your confusion is around investment, and Chinese companies bidding for work on the high speed rail line in collaboration with British companies. It’s not about funding the high speed rail project. This is a significant taxpayer investment.

Eventually Montague rephrased her question to ‘can it be done without the Chinese?’

2. Things then got worse when Montague asked yet another dud question. She asked if Jeremy Corbyn’s promise to nationalise railways would derail HS2 and put off potential investors. Kirby then has to state that this is not the case, given that — as he already mentioned — HS2 ‘is being built by taxpayer money’.

3. The final nail on the coffin then arrived with an eye-watering interview between Montague and Zaha Hadid, the award-winning architect. Montague asked about stadium deaths relating to her Qatar stadium project. Hadid then walked out of the interview, claiming her research was rubbish. ‘Absolutely not true, we sued somebody for writing that,’ she responded. ‘You should check your information’.

While Hadid may be on to something about Montague’s lack of research for the programme, Mr S must concede that when it comes to the architect’s car crash interview this may not be entirely the Today presenter’s fault; Mr S’s colleague Stephen Bayley previously wrote a Heckler on the architect’s shortcomings.

Update: The BBC has apologised to Hadid for Monatgue’s line of questioning in her interview with Hadid. Speaking on today’s show, James Naughtie read out an apology:

‘Now the ITUC’s figure of 1,200 construction deaths which was quoted on this programme refers to the whole of Qatar, and not specifically to the main World Cup stadium site. We are sorry that that wasn’t made clear.’


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