Election '97: Media Watch: Rules which differ for the pundits

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The Independent Online
While Martin Bell is putting his career in danger by standing as the anti-sleaze candidate in the Tatton constituency, other media candidates seem to find a shot at politics no hindrance to advancement, given the right ground rules.

The BBC said yesterday that it would review Mr Bell's position when the election was over. Tony Hall, chief executive of BBC News, said: "It is really difficult to use people on screen in the front-line news areas who have publicly declared a political allegiance.

"People from the BBC who choose to stand for Parliament are obviously aware of how it might affect their future career."

Mr Bell, unlike Radio 4's Today programme reporter Ben Bradshaw, who is running as a Labour candidate in the Tory marginal of Exeter, was put on immediate unpaid leave when he announced his candidacy. Mr Bradshaw attracted claims of bias from the Tories because the BBC did not find him a non-news job quickly enough.

For the long list of newspaper journalists running in the campaign, the rules are not so clear.

The Daily Telegraph's assistant editor, Boris Johnson, continued to write for the newspaper's politics pages long after he had secured the candidacy of the Conservative Party in the Labour fortress of Clwyd South. The Telegraph also has Dean Godson, who is running as a Conservative in a media head-to-head against the former BBC broadcaster and sitting MP Austin Mitchell in Grimsby. The paper lost the writer Julie Kirkbride when she was selected as Tory candidate for Bromsgrove.

Mr Johnson denies he has removed from his columns anything that could be a hostage to fortune for his political ambitions: "If people look at my stuff they can see there has been no censorship. If an opponent wanted to go through everything I've written, they would probably find an entire arsenal of ammunition, if that was their aim."

His editor, Charles Moore, believes there is nothing wrong with a candidate writing about politics as long as the readership knows of the writer's allegiances.

The Guardian's editor, Alan Rushbridger, disagrees. "I now wonder if I am reading Boris Johnson as a candidate, or as a pundit," he said. "It is wrong to have him writing leaders and columns while seeking high office in the Tory party."

The Guardian's Martin Linton, running for the marginal Tory constituency of Battersea, was taken off of the newspaper's coverage of polls when he announced his candidacy.

At The Independent , Yvette Cooper, who was selected last night as the Labour candidate for Pontefract and Castleford in West Yorkshire, moved from writing leaders to European economics correspondent in keeping with the paper's policy of taking candidates off a direct political beat. Paul Farrelly, until last week an Independent on Sunday business writer, is standing as Labour candidate in the Tories' third-safest seat, Chesham and Amersham.

There is a long history of candidates from the media entering Parliament, from Tom Driberg, who was a diarist on the Express before becoming a Labour MP, to the tragic case of the former BBC reporter Stephen Milligan.

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