BBC general election coverage draws more complaints from Tory supporters than Labour

Boris Johnson’s interview with Andrew Marr prompted most complaints during weeks before 12 December vote

Chris Baynes
Tuesday 31 December 2019 15:55
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Boris Johnson agrees to Andrew Neil interview

More Conservative supporters complained en masse about the BBC’s coverage of the general election campaign than Labour supporters, according to figures published by the broadcaster.

Thousands more people accused the corporation of bias against the Conservatives, Boris Johnson or other senior Tories than against Labour in the weeks before the 12 December vote, the BBC’s complaints log shows.

The Labour Party wrote to the broadcaster’s director general a week before the election to voice frustration over “slanted and biased” coverage and “anti-Labour framing”.

The BBC also faced widespread and repeated criticism from the party’s supporters on social media during the campaign, including over its failure to convince the prime minister to sit down for an interview with Andrew Neil and its political editor amplifying a false claim that health secretary Matt Hancock had been punched by a Labour activist.

But the complaints log data suggests Tory supporters were more likely to write to the BBC to raise formal grievances with the corporation’s political coverage.

The prime minister’s Andrew Marr Show interview with Mr Johnson on 1 December was subject to by far the largest volume of complaints, with 12,172 people writing to the BBC – mostly to claim bias against the prime minister.

The programme aired after the BBC, in the wake of the London Bridge terror attack, reversed its decision not to run any more interviews with the prime minister unless he agreed to sit down with Mr Neil.

The broadcaster faced criticism from both sides over the interview, in which Mr Marr and Mr Johnson talked over each other and the presenter accused the prime minister of “chuntering”. Some viewers complaining Mr Marr interrupted the PM too much, while others said the presenter failed to properly challenge his mistruths.

But the complaints log data, first reported by The Guardian, show the majority of those who filed formal complaints were seemingly Conservative supporters. In the wake of the interview, the BBC received so many complaints it changed its website to make it easier for viewers to criticise their presenter.

Mr Neil’s 4 December interview with Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage also drew a large volume of complaints of anti-Tory bias, with 910 people writing to the BBC.

Other interviews with Tory figures on programmes including Question Time and Today led to accusations of unfair coverage, with even the BBC Breakfast programme’s 29 November interview with Stanley Johnson prompting 192 claims of bias against the prime minister’s father.

Mr Neil’s 26 November interview with Jeremy Corbyn, in which the Labour leader declined to apologise for his party’s handling of antisemitism, drew more complaints of anti-Labour bias than any other programme during the campaign – with 1,303 writing to the BBC to express concerns.

More than 2,000 people also claimed that Breakfast using archive footage of the PM laying a wreath on Remembrance Sunday – instead of footage from this year’s ceremony, at which the PM laid a flower arrangement upside down – indicated pro-Tory bias.

And nearly 2,500 viewers complained about the BBC editing a clip from the Question Time leaders’ special to remove the audience’s laughing at the PM after he was asked if “truth matters”.

The BBC’s complaints bulletin – published fortnightly – lists any programmes which have prompted negative feedback from more than 100 viewers.

The data currently available only goes up to 10 December, so does not include the final two days of the election campaign, and does not include an assessment of the legitimacy of any complaints.

The BBC said the data “gives only a partial overview of the feedback we’ve received”.

A spokesperson added: “The BBC receives tens of thousands of comments, appreciations and complaints from its audiences each year. We are required by Ofcom to report specific types of complaints in our fortnightly reports but it would be wrong to assume that analysing these reports gives a complete or accurate picture of all audience reaction.”

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