Tories hire media watchdog to monitor bias at Dyke's BBC

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WILLIAM HAGUE has declared all-out war on the BBC by hiring a firm of professional media monitors to look for political bias, following the appointment of Greg Dyke as Director-General.

The Conservatives are so concerned about the political affiliations of the new BBC boss that they are going to pay a "six-figure sum" to an independent monitoring company in the run-up to the next general election to assess the Corporation's entire news and current affairs output.

The Tory leader will warn Mr Dyke, when he meets him tomorrow to discuss his past donation of pounds 55,000 (previously thought to be pounds 50,000) to the Labour Party, that the BBC will be scoured for signs it is following a pro-government agenda. He will complain that the Conservatives have already been the victim of "overt bias" since the general election and demand that the balance be redressed.

The decision to hire professional monitors takes the Tories' relationship with the BBC to its lowest point since Norman Tebbit set up a special unit in Conservative Central Office to analyse bias in 1986.

The monitoring company will produce weekly reports about the amount of air time given to the views of Conservative spokesmen, as opposed to Labour or Liberal Democrat politicians. It will also analyse the political content of programmes including Today, The World at One and Newsnight, and comment on the tone of interviews. "We have serious concerns about Greg Dyke's appointment and we want an independent assessment of bias from the moment he starts the job," a spokesman said.

The Conservatives have become increasingly aggressive in their dealings with the BBC in recent months. They have made 67 formal complaints about anti-Tory bias since the general election two years ago. Mr Hague complained in person to the outgoing Director- General Sir John Birt that Conservative politicians were so sidelined that his party was no longer being treated as the official Opposition.

Yesterday the Tories released a dossier containing letters to the BBC, and the Corporation's response. In one letter Gregor Mackay, Mr Hague's former press secretary, complained that interviewers on the Today programme were "rude, aggressive, sarcastic and incessantly interrupt when questioning the Conservatives" and in another he said there was "a culture at the BBC of thinking the worst about the Conservative Party and then broadcasting it".

The BBC concedes that there have been problems with some programmes. Sir John admitted in a letter to Mr Ancram in March that a Newsnight item on Europe "did not achieve a satisfactory balance".

Mr Dyke, the multi-millionaire chairman of Pearson Television who joins the BBC in November, resigned as a member of the Labour party last week and pledged his determination that the BBC would fulfil its remit for impartiality. Tomorrow he will seek to reassure Mr Hague that he will be "scrupulously fair" at all times.

Mr Dyke is also expected to resign this week as a non-executive director of Manchester United football club. He is concerned that this could leave him open to accusations of a conflict of interest if the BBC got involved in bidding for rights to broadcast football matches.