Birt defends BBC impartiality rules

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Media Correspondent

John Birt, director general of the BBC, yesterday rejected calls from some Conservative MPs for a clear set of rules by which the corporation should act to guarantee its impartiality.

Responding to accusations by Michael Fabricant and Toby Jessel that the corporation had on occasions been less than even-handed, Mr Birt told the Commons National Heritage Select Committee that "the principle of impartiality is deep in the BBC's culture. We clearly have the most complete set of guidelines of any broadcaster in the world. I simply do not believe that impartiality can be reduced to a neat set of rules ... I don't see the need to change our present approach."

Mr Birt added that "it would be common ground between [MPs and the BBC] that we must be impeccably fair between political parties and I think we have managed to do that."

The BBC has faced strong criticism from Conservative MPs recently over perceived hostile and confrontational questioning on the Today programme. One of its presenters, John Humphrys, was singled out by Jonathan Aitken, Chief Secretary to the Treasury, for being partisan.

Yesterday Mr Birt rallied to the defence of both the programme and Mr Humphrys, whom he described as "one of the most respected interviewers. The Today programme is required listening for anyone interested in British politics. It does, day by day, with considerable intelligence and verve, plot and expose the political man oeuvrings in our democratic state. It is a robust programme, as is British politics. Most politicians are well able to take care of themselves."