Election '97: BBC election coverage attacked as 'too fair'

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The Independent Online
Labour launched an attack on the media's coverage of the election campaign yesterday, saying the BBC was being "too fair" in allowing politicians to make negative jibes at each other.

Launching the party's latest poster campaign, Tony Blair said he wanted the campaign to concentrate on issues rather than "tit-for-tat" politics. His press secretary, Alastair Campbell, went further by holding television coverage of the campaign responsible for voter apathy.

He said he was not making a gratuitous attack on the BBC, but criticised the corporation's interpretation of the Representation of the People Act and its own charter, which say broadcasts should give parties an equitable amount of airtime. He said that was resulting mainly in coverage of Tory criticism of Labour and of Labour rebuttals.

"People want to hear about the issues," he said. "Not just one set of politicians knocking another set.

"Tony Blair feels very strongly that we have to start gripping this election by the scruff of the neck and shaking people out of media-inspired cynicism. We do that by Tony being positive, positive, positive, every time the Tories are negative, negative, negative."

"Labour believes the Conservatives are running a negative campaign in the hope that people will feel cynical towards all politicians, a condition more likely to result in political status quo."

Addressing a BBC correspondent at a media briefing in Milton Keynes after the launch of Labour's posters, Mr Campbell said the party would prefer to see separate news packages examining Conservative policies and then Labour plans. "We don't even mind if you give them more time than us - we are not stop-watch crazy," he said.

The positive campaigning theme was also taken up by Mr Blair. "They tell me that ratings for the television news programmes are on the slide," he said. "It is not surprising. You switch on your news every night and it's tit for tat - they knock us and we knock them. It should be about things that really concern the people of this country."

He said the launch of the posters was Labour's attempt to highlight positive issues. Using the same fluorescent green, yellow and blue backgrounds that have characterised its campaign, the posters carry the party's five main election pledges.

Labour plans to devote today to another of its positive themes: education. Addressing his Milton Keynes audience, where the party needs a 4.6 per cent swing to take the seat from the Conservatives Mr Blair said: "I don't believe there is any more important issue for the future of this country ... my first three priorities are education, education and education."