Labour has submitted an official complaint to Tony Hall, the BBC Director General, over the organisation’s “slanted and biased” coverage of the general election.
In a letter to the BBC sent today, Labour’s co-campaign coordinator Andrew Gwynne – also a shadow cabinet member – has raised “particular concerns over the Andrew Neil interviews”.
Although the BBC presenter known to be a tough interviewer has grilled Jeremy Corbyn as well as other party leaders, no date has been agreed for an interview with Boris Johnson.
Instead, the Prime Minister appeared on The Andrew Marr Show on Sunday and gave an interview during which he told untruths including the claim that Corbyn wanted to scrap MI5 and that the Queen’s Speech was blocked by parliament.
Labour has accused the BBC of allowing Johnson to “pick and choose a platform through which he believed he could present himself more favourably and without the same degree of accountability”.
More broadly, Gwynne has noted that “a significant amount of BBC content… draws on the content and political agenda of the Conservative Party-supporting press”.
Labour has requested that the “unfairness” be “urgently corrected” during the last week of the general election campaign, in the run-up to polling day on December 12th.
After his interview with Nigel Farage this evening, Neil issued a message about the Prime Minister’s non-appearance: “It is not too late. We have an interview prepared. Oven-ready, as Mr Johnson likes to say.”
Emphasising the issue of “trust” in this election, Neil added: “There is no law, no Supreme Court ruling that can force Mr Johnson to participate in a BBC leaders’ interview.
“But the Prime Minister of our nation will, at times, have to stand up to President Trump, President Putin, President Xi of China. So it was surely not expecting too much that he spend half an hour standing up to me.”
A previous complaint by Corbyn’s party to Sky News over its slogan, ‘The Brexit Election’, was rejected by the UK’s communications regulator Ofcom.
Below is the full text of Labour’s letter to the BBC Director General.
I am writing to raise the Labour Party’s serious concerns over the BBC’s coverage of the General Election campaign, which we believe has repeatedly shown bias in its reporting of the Labour Party and its leadership, and demonstrated a worrying failure to meet the BBC’s obligations to fairness and impartiality.
That bias has been reflected in the framing, content and balance of BBC reporting during the campaign. We have recorded numerous examples of more negative treatment, harsher scrutiny and slanted editorial comment about Labour’s leadership, policies and record, as compared with those of the Conservative Party, and submitted them to the BBC.
Up to this point, there has been no substantive response, even though the time to address the evidence of bias is fast running out.
In terms of balance and fairness, we have particular concerns over the Andrew Neil interviews. It now appears that the BBC has accepted the Conservative breach of the debates programmes package, agreed with both parties, and allowed the Conservative leader to choose an alternative interviewer.
Despite our concerns about Andrew Neil’s well-known conservative political leanings, we agreed to Jeremy Corbyn’s participation on the clear understanding that Boris Johnson had agreed the same terms: namely, a four-programme debates package, including a Neil interview, designed with legal oversight to ensure fairness, balance and impartiality across the campaign period.
Instead, the BBC allowed the Conservative leader to pick and choose a platform through which he believed he could present himself more favourably and without the same degree of accountability.
This clearly broke the agreement the Labour Party made with the BBC in good faith. But despite raising this repeatedly with BBC editorial management, no proposal has been made to redress the imbalance that has been created.
This imbalance is compounded almost daily by the fact that a significant amount of BBC content – on TV, radio and online, including bulletins, commentary and newspaper reviews – draws on the content and political agenda of the Conservative Party-supporting press.
The BBC does not have a role as a protagonist in the General Election. If the Conservatives are allowed to ‘play’ or manipulate the BBC, and this behaviour goes unchecked, then the corporation will have effectively been complicit in giving the Conservative Party an unfair electoral advantage.
I would therefore urge you to ensure that this unfairness is urgently corrected, and that the Labour Party is treated fairly and even-handedly, in relation to the governing Conservative Party in particular, in what is left of this campaign.
I attach our previous letter to your colleague Fran Unsworth, and an updated set of examples of your slanted and biased coverage of the campaign.
Labour Party co-campaign coordinator