The European Elections: Lib Dems rail against BBC for 'Labour bias': John Birt accused of slavish and unbalanced coverage. Patricia Wynn Davies reports

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The Independent Online
The Liberal Democrats yesterday accused the BBC of 'slavishly' following whatever agenda was set by the Labour Party in its coverage of European election campaigning.

In a letter to the BBC Director General, John Birt, Matthew Taylor, chairman of the Liberal Democrats European campaign, claimed that the corporation had abandoned its obligation under the Representation of the People Act to provide 'balanced' coverage during an election period.

Mr Taylor had sought to nip the alleged snub in the bud in a letter on 25 May claiming imbalance in earlier coverage, which was overshadowed by the Labour leadership issue and the effect of the Tory manifesto on John Major's position. Mr Taylor urged him to 'correct the imbalance over the next 16 days.'

Mr Taylor fired off another protest yesterday claiming the situation was now much worse.

He had still not received 'as much as an acknowledgement' of the earlier letter. 'Your coverage of the Labour Party has been out of all proportion to the coverage of anybody else,' he said.

Liberal Democrat agitation over election coverage is a familiar refrain. The party has calculated, however, that Labour has enjoyed 52 per cent of BBC coverage since the three main parties launched their manifestos on 23 May, compared with 34 per cent for the Conservatives and 14 for themselves.

Mr Taylor said the main BBC television news bulletins had 'virtually ignored' the Liberal Democrats and to a lesser extent the Conservatives. 'To take just one example, on the day that the (Labour-commissioned) Social Justice Commission report was published there was the usual package on the press conferences and an additional package all about the Social Justice Commission mentioning the Labour Party several times without any criticism from other politicians.

'Even if you tell us that our figures, which we stand by, are inaccurate, it is still quite clear that far from providing the balanced reporting we normally expect from the BBC during an election period, your coverage of the Labour Party has been out of all proportion to the coverage of anybody else.'

A BBC spokeswoman said: 'A response is currently in train. It will go off when it is ready. The points are currently being looked into.'