Labour steps up `bias' row with BBC

BY DONALD MACINTYRE

Political Editor

Labour's public row with the BBC worsened last night as the party stepped up its pressure on the corporation to shelve a planned interview with John Major on Panorama on Monday night.

In a letter to Tony Hall, the BBC's managing director on news and current affairs, the party last night claimed that the BBC was "liable to judicial review" for breaching its impartiality undertakings if it went ahead with the 40-minute interview three days before the Scottish local elections.

The latest move came after Mr Hall said the corporation was standing by its plans to go ahead with the interview after Labour claimed that it was in breach of its "producers' guidelines" on the requirement to maintain "balance" during a campaign.

Labour continued to pressure the BBC after Mr Hall had made it clear that the interview would deal "with the range of government policies and its record on national and international issues not specific to local elections". Mr Hall, pointing out that the BBC had first bid for the interview last December, and that the Prime Minister had finally accepted last week, had added: "As with all our programmes we will carry out the task with rigour. Such programmes are at the centre of BBC journalism."

In a further letter last night, Mr Hall took issue with what he said was Labour's "misconception" about the guidelines, which in paragraph 3.2 say that the BBC undertakes "to maintain balance over the period of a campaign, in its recorded actuality of political speeches and in film, videotape and studio contributions from politicians".

Mr Hall said: "They are for guidance only and in no sense are they rules or undertakings except to the extent that they reproduce legal requirements. They also make no attempt to deal with every eventuality and consequently do not refer to interviews with any specific individual, the Prime Minister included."

But Labour, after taking legal advice, contested this again last night. In a further letter, Alastair Campbell, press secretary to the Labour leader, Tony Blair, referred to the BBC's licence agreement and the fact that annexed to it was an undertaking by the board of governors in 1964 to comply with standards similar to those "imposed by statute on the independent broadcasters". Labour claims the producers' guidelines specifically reflect that "undertaking".

The row initially broke out after the leaking of a memorandum from Nick Robinson, the deputy editor of Panorama, discussing putative defences against Opposition accusations that the interview was giving favourable treatment to Mr Major. The BBC dismissed Labour's original claims that it had bowed to Government pressure, pointing out that both the agreement to do the interview, and Mr Robinson's memo, dated from well before Jonathan Aitken's attack on the BBC. Mr Hall said that the leaked memo was "testimony to the fact that we recognise . . . our commitment to make sure we are fair and impartial", which he said would continue in coverage of local election campaigns.

Tories attack BBC, page 7

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
News
Valerie Trierweiler’s book paints Hollande as a cold-hearted hypocrite
people
Arts and Entertainment
Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1
filmsMockingjay Part 1 taking hit franchise to new levels
News
Bill Cosby
peopleActor has firmly defended himself against all claims
Life and Style
techSweet Peach says scent 'shows more important things are working'
Sport
Diego Costa, Ross Barkley, Arsene Wenger, Brendan Rodgers, Alan Pardew and Christian Eriksen
footballRodgers is right to be looking over his shoulder, while something must be done about diving
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Clinical Negligence Solicitor

Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: HAMPSHIRE MARKET TOWN - A highly attr...

Ashdown Group: IT Systems Analyst / Application Support Engineer (ERP / SSRS)

£23000 - £30000 per annum + pension, 25days holiday: Ashdown Group: An industr...

Ashdown Group: Junior Reports Developer / Application Support Engineer

£23000 - £30000 per annum + pension, 25days holiday: Ashdown Group: An industr...

Recruitment Genius: Client Support Officer

£10 - £11 per hour: Recruitment Genius: The candidate must be committed, engag...

Day In a Page

In a world of Saudi bullying, right-wing Israeli ministers and the twilight of Obama, Iran is looking like a possible policeman of the Gulf

Iran is shifting from pariah to possible future policeman of the Gulf

Robert Fisk on our crisis with Iran
The young are the new poor: A third of young people pushed into poverty

The young are the new poor

Sharp increase in the number of under-25s living in poverty
Greens on the march: ‘We could be on the edge of something very big’

Greens on the march

‘We could be on the edge of something very big’
Revealed: the case against Bill Cosby - through the stories of his accusers

Revealed: the case against Bill Cosby

Through the stories of his accusers
Why are words like 'mongol' and 'mongoloid' still bandied about as insults?

The Meaning of Mongol

Why are the words 'mongol' and 'mongoloid' still bandied about as insults?
Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

The last Christians in Iraq

After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Britain braced for Black Friday
Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

From America's dad to date-rape drugs

Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

Flogging vlogging

First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

US channels wage comedy star wars
When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible