Jeremy Paxman cleared of accusations of University Challenge “bias”

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Jeremy Paxman has been cleared of showing bias towards St Peter’s College during an episode of University Challenge.

Paxman, University Challenge presenter and an alum of St Catharine’s College, Cambridge, gave points to the St Peter’s team after they answered a question without a completely correct answer.

During the programme, aired in August last year, the former Newsnight presenter asked: “What links Winston Smith’s residence in 1984, May 8th 1945, and Nelson’s flagship at the Battle of Trafalgar?”

When the St Peter’s team responded with “The letter ‘V’.” Paxman awarded points and remarked “Yeah, we were looking for the word but you’re quite right, V does link them all, V for victory, well done.”

One outraged viewer complained to the BBC last August, claiming that Paxman had been biased towards the St Peter’s team.

The current master of St Peter’s College is former BBC News Executive Mark Damazer, who was responsible for all of the BBC’s news output, including Newsnight, and was thus likely to have worked with Paxman.

The BBC’s audience services department rejected the complaint, stating: “We should stress that Jeremy didn’t say he was looking for the whole word until after the answer was given, so the answer was acceptable. We don’t agree that this was a display of bias as you suggest.”

The complaint was later taken to the BBC Trust, who also rejected any further consideration of the claim, stating there was “no likelihood that there had been a breach of the editorial guidelines on impartiality”.

Damazer told The Oxford Student: “I am delighted that my two favourite institutions, St Peter’s and the BBC, emerge unscathed from this intriguing, if somewhat disproportionate, complaint.  Jeremy, whether or not in full frown mode, is many things – combative, kind, clever and much more – but certainly incorruptible.  It had not crossed my mind to pass him a bundle of 20 pound notes – nor even the St Peter’s choir CDs or cufflinks. It would not have worked.”

St Peter’s beat the University of Sussex by 55 points, and are still in the competition, having also beaten the Oxford Brookes team.

Paxman, who will be fronting Channel 4’s General Election coverage in May, has been accused of bias on numerous occasions.

In 2007, University Challenge fans complained of a bias towards all Oxbridge colleges. In 2011, Paxman, as a Cambridge alum, was accused of favouring colleges there.