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BBC apologises to Hadid over Qatar allegations

The BBC has made a public apology over misleading comments made in a radio interview with Hadid which suggested construction workers had died on her Qatar 2022 stadium project

The AJ understands the broadcaster has also apologised privately to the architect following a fractious exchange with presenter Sarah Montague on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

During the show on Thursday morning (24 September) Hadid - who eventually cut the interview short - was grilled about the working conditions in Qatar.

In a question which appeared to reference estimates by the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) that there had been 1,200 deaths on building projects in the Arab emirate in the three years to 2014, Montague said: ‘One of your buildings is the Qatar stadium where there have been considerable problems, not least the number of deaths.’

Hadid, who launched a lawsuit for defamation against the New York Review of Books over the same allegations last year, responded: ‘There have not been any problems actually, I have to put you right, there has not been a single problem at the Qatar stadium.’

Montague went on: ‘But more than 1,200 migrant workers have died there’.

The architect replied: ‘Absolutely not true. We sued somebody for writing that, and saying that, and it had to be withdrawn from the press. It is absolutely inaccurate.’

Hadid was then questioned about the ‘scrapping’ of her Tokyo 2020 stadium scheme at which point the London-based architect ended the interview.

The tone of the programme sparked an outcry from architects with many taking to twitter to voice their anger.

The BBC has now said sorry for suggesting there had been any deaths on the al-Wakrah stadium project and posted an apology on the Radio 4 website.

The apology reads: ‘The ITUC’s figure of 1200 construction deaths which was quoted on this morning’s programme refers to the whole of Qatar, and not specifically to the main World Cup stadium site.

‘We are sorry we didn’t make this clear in this morning’s interview with Dame Zaha Hadid. We are happy to accept there is no evidence of deaths at the main stadium site.’

Following the broadcast, a number of architects including architect Julyan Wickham and Tom Pike wrote to the corporation demanding it apologise for the allegations and the way in which Hadid had been questioned (see letters attached).

The 64 year old architect was being interviewed on receipt of the RIBA Royal Gold Medal in recognition of her life’s work.

She is the first woman to be sole recipient of the 167-year-old accolade – previous female winners Sheila O’Donnell (2015), Patty Hopkins (1994) and Ray Eames (1979) were all recognised alongside their husbands and practice partners.

Zaha Hadid Architects’ official statement about the al-Wakrah stadium project:
‘Since all works began at the al-Wakrah stadium site in 2013, the construction crews have now completed more than 1.2million working hours on the site with no accidents causing lost time. The authorities in Qatar managing the al-Wakrah site operate the highest levels of workers’ health, safety and welfare.’

Readers' comments (8)

  • I was listening to this interview live and couldn't believe what I heard. The questioning was aggressive and persistent and nothing to do with her award. I'll not be listening to Radio 4 again. Call yourself a high class station?

    Your apology was poor. You should repeat it as many time as you repeated your false allegations.


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  • The BBC should go further and apologise for the incessant negative barrage of questions throughout the interview. Zaha Hadid and the listeners deserved a moment of public celebration upon her overdue award of the RIBA Gold medal.

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  • The lady who interviewed Dame Zaha Hadid was arrogant and must apologise with Zaha for such an attitude. The focus of the interview was shifted to unwanted matters.

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  • Who at the BBC was responsible for instigating an interview with such an aggresively negative emphasis when there was a real opportunity to celebrate: a- That a woman had awarded the RIBA Gold Medal as a sole recipient for the first time. b- That her success as a architect around the world is an amazing achievement. c- That she was trained in this country, and that despite lack of commissions here, particularly in the early years, she has done us the great service of continuing to practice here and to stimulate our profession by her presence among us. d- Also how about referring to the disgrace of the Cardiff Opera House competition in those early years,. still she stuck with us! Auntie Beeb get on your knees and give us a proper celebratory programme. On Prime Time TV!!!

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  • Ecologic

    BBC should research thoroughly before interviewing- this is not the first time such things have happened.

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  • J Burden

    The Today interview was poor but Janice Turner’s article ’Hadid’s Deals with Despots Come at a Price’ in The Times yesterday was very good - if uncomfortable - reading. It centred on the issue of morality and architecture and asked whether architects have an ethical duty to question who they work for and for what purposes they serve.
    “Of all art, architecture requires the deepest faith and investment in your vision from those with money to burn. And who has dosh for grand projects but oligarchs, Chinese party high-ups and kleptocrats?”
    Of course there is serious money and backing behind certain grand projects and a chance to build something beautiful but if starchitects don’t take an ethical stand or use their influence they have to campaign for safety then the chance is that they will be remembered as a bunch of latter day Albert Speers.

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  • What an incompetent and insulting piece of reporting. First check your facts. When the BBC delivers worse journalism than a tabloid newspaper, I have new sympathy with the call to cut public funding of the BBC. And the reporter does not deserve to be employed by a news organisation,
    The architect is a national treasure; trying to make her personally responsible for the mismanagement of the entire Qatari construction industry, with no evidence, was stupidity. Would the interviewer have challenged a man in the same way? No.
    Rebecca Collings, London E2

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  • I'm no great fan of Hadid's overwrought and overpriced projects. But her treatment on Today was a disgrace, and it was great to hear her stand up to the poorly researched soundbite rubbish that passes for an interview there nowadays.

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