Burnham writes to BBC over lack of coverage for NHS march and rally

30th September, 2013 2:38 pm

There was a large march and rally in defence of the NHS in Manchester yesterday – yet the BBC’s coverage largely glossed over it, only including it in coverage of Tory conference. Andy Burnham, who was one of the speakers at yesterday’s rally, has written to Lord Patten at the BBC to ask why the BBC neglected to cover the event, when other news networks did in far more detail. Here’s the letter:


Dear Lord Patten

BBC coverage of NHS march and rally in Manchester

Yesterday, Manchester witnessed one of the largest demonstrations in its long political history as people from a range of backgrounds and from all over the UK converged to raise concern about this Government’s changes to the NHS.

According to official estimates from Greater Manchester Police, around 50,000 people took part. GMP said it was one of the largest protests they had ever policed and it was clearly one of the largest political demonstrations held outside London for many a year.

I attended the event and was proud to walk alongside doctors, nurses and other front-line NHS staff from all parts of the country who had given up their Sunday in the hope of making their voice heard. From my observation, NHS staff made up a significant proportion of the large crowd.

It was therefore a real surprise to me to return home to find what I consider only cursory coverage of the event on BBC news bulletins. As far I could see, there was no specific coverage and it was only mentioned in the wider context of Conservative Party Conference. There was no explanation as to why people were there in such large numbers nor direct interviews with participants to find out what had prompted them to travel so far on a Sunday.

By any reckoning, this was a major national protest and it seems to me that the BBC’s coverage did not reflect this. Indeed, other major news channels seemed to reach a different editorial judgement, covering the story in more depth and interviewing participants.

My purpose in writing to you is not, at this stage, to make a formal complaint but rather to request that the Trust conduct a review of the extent and quality of the BBC coverage and to provide me with a considered opinion as to whether you consider it to have been adequate given the scale and social significance of the event. In particular, I would be grateful to know how many journalists and cameras were sent by the BBC to provide direct coverage of the event.

Since yesterday, the concern that many people have expressed on social media outlets is that the perceived lack of adequate coverage of yesterday’s events follows a pattern. As I am sure you are aware, there have been many complaints of the BBC’s perceived failure adequately to cover the changes to the NHS – in particular, the privatisation of services – in both the run-up to, and aftermath of, the Health & Social Care Act 2012. I don’t know whether the Trust has received complaints about this matter, and had the opportunity to investigate it, but either way it would be helpful to hear your views on this wider context as part of your response.

Thank you for your consideration of this request and I look forward to your response.

Best wishes


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  • kb32904

    Good on him !

  • treborc1

    The BBC has always done what the master wants, New Labour used the BBC each time it brought out a green paper on welfare, we would have the BBC program about benefits cheats , each green paper a new program.

    Now the Tories are in power and the BBC has changed it alliance to the Tories, sadly this is a fact of life.

  • Shaun A J Stockdale

    Labour conference and it seemed wall to wall coverage regarding Damian McBride and yet you hear nothing on the Tory vice-chairman Alan Lewis’s arrest…

    • Jimmy Grant

      Damien McBride published a tell-all confessional book about his misdemeanours which derailed several cabinet careers whilst he worked at the heart of the Labour government. Alan Lewis is a peripheral figure who no-one has ever heard of and who is, as yet, innocent of any crime. I’d say the coverage of both was proportionate.
      Matthew d’Ancona’s book (Gideon v IDS and Cameron’s equal marriage regrets) – now that deserves more prominence. Cameron and Osborne both squirmed when they were asked about those stories on the BBC over the last couple of days.

  • charles.ward

    I used to be the case that political parties wouldn’t campaign during other parties’ conferences. There was a lot of fuss when Gordon Brown ignored this and visited Iraq during the Tory conference.

    I guess there can be no more of these “gentleman’s agreements” as there are no more gentlemen in politics (of either sex).

    • Danny

      Erm, the TUC aren’t a political party.

      • charles.ward

        I don’t know how you can say “nothing to do with us guv” with a straight face when the Shadow Health Sectretary attends the march and then complains to the BBC when he doesn’t get on TV.

        Andy Burnham is clearly using the demonstration to campaign during the Tory conference, shame on him.

        • Andy Burnham is a member of a trade union.

          Tory party members/supporters who are concerned at the destruction of the NHS were welcome to join the march. Indeed, you’d think some of them would be grateful for its proximity – right on the doorstep of their conference.

          • BillFrancisOConnor

            Shame you never made it Dave. It was a great day.

          • Chrisso

            Indeed, I was on the March and the police liaison persons were very friendly, walking with us and chatting. I think if they were allowed to they would have been there under a Police Federation banner. They don’t like Tories either.

  • Jimmy Grant

    But the protesters were camped outside the Tory conference. They chose to protest there and then BECAUSE of the Tory conference. The protest wasn’t divorced from the conference, so of course it’s going to be mentioned in the context of it.
    It looked a lot like a general anti-Tory rally, not an NHS-specific one. BBC coverage seems fair enough, on that basis. Andy Burnham did a set-piece NHS speech in Brighton, why does he think he would get more coverage in Manchester too?

  • terryec

    I was extremely annoyed with the coverage of the march by the BBC it was a blatant abuse of the coverage of political matters, they have stopped fair examination of the government and totally ignored the Privatisation of the NHS. The BBC has broken all the strictures they have in reporting, 95% of the political commentators are right wing and refuse to report exactly what is going on in this country, I would ask anybody who wants to see proper news is to watch al Jazeera or Russia Today.

  • Jimmy Grant

    May I ask why you have not approved my comment? It was not libellous or offensive. Was it because I defended the BBC coverage? Do you have to adopt the editorial line in order to be approved? I only ask so that I know whether to bother submitting comments on here. I’d be grateful for a reply.

  • Glen Shaky Shakespeare

    @treborc1. The BBC changed its alliance well before the Tories usurped power. Did you miss their 2010 election coverage? I would say the BBC are responsible for them being where they are today. And therefore responsible for the thousands of deaths that have happened as a result. Never mind the total trashing of the economy.

  • BusyBeeBuzz

    Try doing a search for BBC coverage of legal aid campaigns or disability campaigns and you will find very little. Every time Ken Clarke or Chris Grayling appears on Question Time, legal aid campaigners post comments on the ilegal site damning the BBC. Join the club Andy! The BBC won’t cover any campaign issues unless the rich BBC bosses and the Govt allow them to do so. Still there was fairly good coverage in some of the newspapers. We’ll have to get bigger and louder at the next one!

    • treborc1

      OK Labour brought out it’s first green paper on welfare reforms, the very next day the BBC brought out a program on welfare cheats accidental ok.

      Labour Brought out it second green paper on welfare reforms, the BBC brought out the second series of benefits cheats.

      Coincidence maybe.

      Labour brings out it’s white paper of Welfare reforms and bingo the BBC bring out a program about benefits scroungers that not accidental or incidental, not a chance of which the BBC asked me to do a program I agreed but it was stated I was to disabled to be shown in other words not a cheat

      The BBC will and has always worked for the political party in power hence all parties do not mind keeping the BBC.
      All parties have used the idea that benefits cheats are every where, in 2011 labour came out with this one

      He vowed to stop Labour being “the party of those ripping off our society” such as benefit cheats and bankers. This is Miliband to the BBC how many benefits cheats do we have. Bankers of course walked away in total.

  • Leigh Douglas

    The BBC is a Tory mouthpiece, so nothing surprising in the lack of coverage of the great demonstration on Sunday.

    The BBC is not fit for purpose.

  • IAmCabal

    Once again, Andy Burnham exemplifies what an effective
    Shadow Cabinet member should be, joining protest against the Coalition’s NHS
    ‘reforms’ and drawing attention to the scandalous underreporting of them by the
    BBC. If Ed Miliband ignores all this and moves him away from health, as some
    have rumoured, it would beg the question as to why. Prior to Ed’s promise to
    repeal the Bedroom Tax, Andy was the only Shadow Cabinet member who not only
    promised to reverse Coalition policy but also offer a better alternative. As
    someone who has felt underrepresented while campaigning about the privatization
    of the NHS, Andy has given me confidence that a Labour government would
    renationalize it. Moving him would give me serious pause for thought and could
    signal that Ed is willing to compromise on this crucial area of health policy,
    perhaps with a view to a possible coalition with the Liberal Democrats. I
    certainly hope he quashes these rumours and gets behind Andy. There are only 18
    months left before the General Election and we need to have the strongest team
    possible to aim for an outright majority.

    • BillFrancisOConnor

      Did you make it IAm? Manchester’s streets jam packed- the real face of Britain (in my opinion) as opposed to the farcical circus inside the conference hall swilling champagne at £45 a bottle and manhandling septuagenarians out of the hall. As today’s nasty speeches have shown these people hate everyone except the Murdochs, banksters and Ashcrofts of this world and waltz through a parallel universe where years and years of wage freezes are not only acceptable but necessary while a 20 month freeze on energy prices is beyond the pale.

      • IAmCabal

        I’m very sad to say I couldn’t make it, as I’ve just started a new job and had to prepare for this week. I hope that Ed was watching when Owen Jones asked the crowd to tell him to keep Burnham in post. The last TUC march I went on blew me away with how well organized and passionate those taking part were, while remaining dignified and serious. This is what should have been shown and I hope that it is through social media. I am very proud of all who went and hope to be at the next one.

        Also, I agree that the Conservatives don’t seem to offer any hope for the future, just year on year higher cost of living and worse working conditions/fewer jobs for most. I suspect that this is why Ed’s line on energy prices has resonated so well. I just hope that he doesn’t undermine this by moving our most effective Shadow Minister.

        • Gabrielle

          I hope that Ed was watching when Owen Jones asked the crowd to tell him to keep Burnham in post.

          Owen’s speech is on YouTube – well worth a watch.


          • IAmCabal

            I watched it before I posted, rousing stuff indeed. I can see Owen as a future leader of the Labour Party if he continues to build his profile. We need far more conviction politicians who know how to communicate.

          • Gabrielle

            Yes, rousing stuff indeed. As far as I know, Owen hasn’t ruled out standing as a PPC for Labour at some point, as long as it was somewhere where he had a personal connection. He would be a real asset to the party.

          • BusyBeeBuzz

            He would indeed be an asset to the party. He is a fantastic writer and speaker who actually speaks from the heart and not from a script.

      • leslie48

        Maybe Labour needs to continue to monitor the BBC News coverage which many believe has become systematically biased but like all such analysis it needs evidence. I have never known a time when so many people have remarked about the sloppy nature of the BBC’s political, economic and social/ed/health/housing etc., coverage. I have never known a time when so many people have said they watch other channels for a more objective approach to UK news. But most alarming is the shift within the Labour movement which used to regularly defend the BBC is an important aspect of our society but now see the organisation and their mangers/stars/editors as overpaid, over-complacent, too conservatively metropolitan, and cut off from the reality of how 99% of how Brits are handling their declining wages and their economic security and how the UK has adapted to the longest economic downturn ever . The BBC decline is worrying because we do not want a Tory Murdochisation of this once fine institution when its got no friends left.

        • Derek Robinson

          Yes they do. If Andy Burnham really was surprised by the BBC’s lack of coverage then Labour need to look at the BBC’s output more closely. When elected Labour need to go into the BBC and sort it out because it cannot be allowed to slide into the Abyss.

    • My money says Andy will be moved – he has proved himself to be too effective in challenging the prevailing free-market orthodoxy – which is still supported by many within Labour even though, as the events of 2008 show, the market failed.

      Andy has already rattled Labour’s hard right and is rapidly building a large body of support within Labour and the Unions. This current of developing opinion runs against the intended outcome (dumping the unions) of the spring conference so there is bound to be an attempt to diminish his influence.

      Still, Decca Aitkenhead’s interview with Andy ended on a very tantalising note:

      “Making his idea for the NHS happen is his “guiding mission in politics now”. If he can’t get it into the Labour manifesto, it will be interesting to see what he does next.”*

      Interesting times ahead, methinks.

      * http://www.theguardian.com/theguardian/2013/aug/09/andy-burnham-interview-thinking-bigger

      • IAmCabal

        Dave, I think we’ve spotted the same manoeuvrings, and they undermine the notion of One Nation Labour. Given that Ed has picked a fight with the unions, I think moving Burnham would be a poor tactical decision from an electoral point of view by alienating the left, but would also make him look weak and frightened of Andy’s growing popularity. Instead, he should harness it and bring the many Health campaigners into the party. If Labour cannot defend the NHS from privatization then the party will be a laughing stock. If commentators think that Clegg’s tuition fees betrayal doomed his party then I dread to think of what would happen to Labour’s electoral future if Prime Minister Miliband about-faced and continued to privatize whatever is left of the NHS in 2015.

      • BillFrancisOConnor

        You really ought to go on marches like the one yesterday Dave. Sometimes it’s more rewarding than spending your time on here running down Labour or making judgements without supporting evidence or making ‘cast iron’ predictions about the future.
        That said the mob in the Conference Hall in Manchester make no distinction between our politics – they hate my politics just as much as they hate yours and just as much as they hate unmarried mothers, the unemployed, immigrants, benefit recipients and the poor. This week’s is just a hate fest for them with unending misery being offered to the vast majority of the population

        • IAmCabal

          I certainly hope that you are right, Bill. We’re finally making some headway and there are other members of the Shadow Cabinet who have failed to make any sort of impression at all. They should be the focus of the reshuffle. For instance, I’d like to see Byrne replaced with Luciana Berger, someone who is articulate and passionate about social justice: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_2JUcSgpr_M

        • jaime taurosangastre candelas

          That seems a little melodramatic. You like I do live in true blue England. When you go shopping in the Morrison’s in Cambourne, or take the train to King’s Cross, do you see these frothing monsters everywhere, this small minority of brainless Visigoths kicking the people down and eating babies? Or do you see normal people, who replicated many times across the country turned out a popular vote rather larger than Labour did in 2010?

          I don’t like this tory government any more than you do, but I try not to let my critical faculties wither and die, and that includes maintaining a sense of proportion.

          • rekrab

            Let be clear here, Osborne has said he wants to run a surplus? and this all points to the tories favouring austerity.Austerity when the sun-shines, Austerity when the rain falls.
            Osborne has over spent imposing austerity? 220 billion over spend, the question is? who has backed his austerity drive with the capital? could it be some connection to the tea party in America?

            I think the public deserve to know where Osborne has borrowed his money to impose austerity.

          • BillFrancisOConnor

            ‘I don’t like this tory government’
            – Could have fooled me pal – reading some of the things you write on here.

            BTW Who’s talking about Morrisons? Have you heard the speeches today?

      • Derek Robinson

        I don’t disagree with this analysis but I don’t think Ed M dare move him even if he wanted to, which I don’t think he does. I think Ed is trying to move LAbour left and needs to kick the old guard out the door..

    • Alexwilliamz

      Although there might be a case for giving him the education brief in opposition to Gove and I think Andy has some ideas around education which might be welcomed. In Health he has done the job sketched out an alternative plan, it might be more use him on another front to gain some ground there??

      • IAmCabal

        Alex, he was moved from education in 2011. He’s only been in the Health role for two years and is doing great work. After the economy, the NHS is the most important issue to the electorate. Why move a very effective Shadow Cabinet member from a role he excels in?

        • Alexwilliamz

          I agree, I would not move him. I’m just wondering if the thinking might be Ryder cup style captaincy trying to match up the team with the opposition team to win on more fronts. Let’s face it a mop with a face drawn on could probably beat Hunt in a debate.

  • BBC Radio Forum

    Well good luck with this Andy! It’ll be interesting to see if this warrants a personal reply from Lord P, would be setting a precedent I wouldn’t wonder… No, this I expect will be registered as a complaint, there may be some comment regarding the independence of the BBC from political influence and as for a review? No, I expect there will be comment that the BBC Trust does not intervene on editorial matters but they review BBC services regularly.

    And on that note the BBC Trust are currently running a public consultation on BBC News & Current Affairs! Yes they are, did you not know? Well, you’d imagine they’d be giving that some high profile plugging wouldn’t you, it like, being rather important and key to it’s public purpose and very existence?

    More information here http://www.bbcradioforum.co.uk/index.php?topic=831

  • The BBC has lost the confidence of the British nation

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  • MrSauce

    Because is was an obvious, cheap, political stunt.
    The BBC is probably embarrassed for you and hopes that you will learn to act like grown-ups.
    Let’s all repeat: ‘We are better than this’.
    And try to mean it this time.

    • Danny

      Is posting patronising twoddle on the internet the way to act like a grown-up? If so, you can keep it, I’ll stick to immaturity. It seems you look like less of an idiot.

  • JoeDM

    Yet another boring Trade Union demo is hardly news. There seems to be one every other day !

    • rekrab

      One every day! now that’s a cracking idea.

    • BillFrancisOConnor

      It was anything but boring. However, the repetitive hate speeches of Ham face and his chums in the hall plumb entirely new and hitherto unknown depths of boredom.

  • Government own the media – simples!

    • Jeremy_Preece

      In which case all of the press and media supported Labour 1997-2010. Clearly they did not. So that statement “government own the media” fails.
      Generally, there is more Tory supporting media than any other type, and it so happens that the Tories are in power at the moment. So, not so simples.

  • Lilian Green

    well done…the coverage or rather lack of it was disgusting. Cameron had so much air time it was like a party political broadcast…yet the large number of people who represented an even larger number of people..especially disabled who could not get to Manchester..was totally ignored

  • mrslibrarylady

    Thank you for raising this issue. The Supporters of Stafford Hospital have been bombarding the BBC about the quality of their coverage of their own campaign as well as NHS issues nationwide. It is a relief that someone with a higher profile is now questioning the coverage by the BBC.

  • BusyBeeBuzz

    Many of us had to leave Whitworth Park before 4pm in order to find and catch our coach home. We were told that information about where to catch them would be on the screens, but none appeared. The ‘Information’ tent said that our driver should have given us a letter. It turned out that the police gave drivers information about pick up points an hour after we got off the coach. Miraculously everyone found our coach and we left at 4:30pm. Sad we missed so many speakers, but we were all exhausted by the time we got back to Sheffield to soak our feet. Great day! Great turnout!

  • markfergusonuk

    If your email address is verified by Disqus (the comments system) your comments will appear more quickly

  • BusyBeeBuzz

    I would like to pay tribute to air ambulance. I was in one of 5 coaches which left Sheffield at 9am. At 9:55am we were held up for 40 mins on Snake Pass because of a motorbike accident. Air ambulance arrived within minute. I spoke to some of his biker friends who said that he had a broken some bones, but would survive. Air ambulance is vital and we must oppose any cuts to this voluntary service. They mention this accident on their website, but they got the date wrong. See:http://www.theairambulanceservice.org.uk/who-we-help/rescue-news/derbyshire-leicestershire-rutland-aa/motorcyclist-injured-at-snake-pass

  • BusyBeeBuzz

    I’ve just rung BBC Complaints. A charming woman took my complaint. If thousands of us do the same, we will have an effect!
    Telephone: 03700100 222

  • BusyBeeBuzz

    BBC Complaints
    Telephone: 03700100 222

  • ColinAdkins

    Maybe they should have donned country tweeds or Barbour jackets and complained about the denial of their freedom to foxhunt and they would have given it plenty of coverage.

  • Derek Robinson

    Spot on Glen. The BBC were acting like Camerons best mates well before the election. They were highly selective in what was being discussed or what inaccurate claims were challenged.

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