The Labour Party in Blackpool: Mellor 'was hounded for faith in BBC'

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DAVID MELLOR was hounded by the tabloids not just because they knew that he was going to 'come down hard' on them in his press review but because he believed in a high-quality BBC, Tony Lennon, president of the broadcasting union BECTU, told conference.

In a speech tinged with regret at Mr Mellor's resignation as Secretary of State for National Heritage, Mr Lennon warned that, under less sympathetic ministers, the industry could be reduced to making programmes for 'couch potatoes' purely to earn money for monopolistic operators like Rupert Murdoch.

Other newspaper owners wanted to get in on the act, he said during a debate on the media. 'Although Mr Mellor was going to go hard on the press, the tabloids were fearful he would go soft on the BBC. The reason is that Mellor was a man who believed that in broadcasting we should have quality and diversity. And more than that he was a man who believed in the BBC.'

The conference called on the Government to stop making allegations of political bias against the BBC and trying to force it to act as the mouthpiece of the Tory party. It reaffirmed the party's intention to refer the issue of media ownership to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission.

Delegates also heard a powerful plea for legal aid for libel victims from a former maid of the Princess Royal. Linda Townley (nee Joyce), of Stroud CLP, said that three years ago she was falsely accused in the press of stealing letters belonging to the Princess. 'I was very frightened at that time. I was also shocked to discover that because I am poor I have no right to sue for libel,' Mrs Townley said.