Another fine example of media bias, the BBC sends 3 hecklers armed with microphones to heckle the Tory Prime Minister candidate. I wonder if this was a condition of the there contract to continue broadcasting. If it was Canada, that would be part of the status quo.
Tory fury as BBC sends hecklers to bait Howard
By Patrick Hennessy, Political Editor
The BBC was last night plunged into a damaging general election row after it admitted equipping three hecklers with microphones and sending them into a campaign meeting addressed by Michael Howard, the Conservative leader.
Michael Howard addresses the crowds in Horwich
The Tories have made an official protest after the hecklers, who were given the microphones by producers, were caught at a party event in the North West last week. Guy Black, the party’s head of communications, wrote in a letter to Helen Boaden, the BBC’s director of news, that the hecklers began shouting slogans that were “distracting and clearly hostile to the Conservative Party”.
These included “Michael Howard is a liar”, “You can’t trust the Tories” and “You can only trust Tony Blair”.
Mr Black’s strongly-worded letter accused the BBC of staging the event “to generate a false news story and dramatise coverage. . . intended to embarrass or ridicule the leader of the Conservative Party”. The letter said that BBC staff were guilty of “serious misconduct”. At least one of the hecklers was seen again at a Tory event in the North East, Mr Black added.
Last night, the BBC claimed that the exercise was part of a “completely legitimate programme about the history and art of political heckling” and said that other parties’ meetings were being “observed”. However, The Telegraph has established that none of Tony Blair’s meetings was infiltrated or disrupted in similar fashion.
The Conservatives have called for an apology and an assurance that no such incident will occur again. It has also demanded that the BBC promises never to broadcast the footage. The corporation said it would investigate “very fully”. It and other broadcasters have a statutory duty to remain impartial during election campaigns. The corporation’s guidelines for producers state: “Our audiences rightly expect the highest editorial and ethical standards from the BBC.”
Tory officials became suspicious at the meeting in Horwich, near Bolton, last Wednesday, when they saw BBC camera crew focusing on the hecklers rather than Mr Howard. They twice challenged the two men and a woman involved, and discovered they had been equipped with radio microphones.
Mr Black said that they described themselves as “shoppers”. In fact, they were under direction from a BBC team making a programme called The History of Heckling for the BBC3 channel. The programme, whose producer is Paul Woolwich, is in the process of being edited.
Mr Black’s letter said of the hecklers: “It is entirely clear to me that the success of their presence required an element of performance on their behalf, and that this was a premeditated event intended to disrupt the course of Mr. Howard’s speech.
“I do not believe that the BBC should be in the business of creating news. It also appears that the same crew was at the Michael Howard visit to Stockton-on-Tees and it can be no coincidence that someone with them was one of these ‘hecklers’.
“I understand that Sally Freestone, the assignments editor UK Special Events, was ‘aghast’ that the BBC had engaged in such behaviour.
“This is a clear and serious breach of recognised BBC producer guidelines, and accordingly a breach of Section 5.3(b)1 of the BBC Charter Agreement. I also believe that the recordings which were taken of these organised hecklers, of ordinary members of the crowd and/or of Conservative officials who reacted and were recorded, would amount to ‘surreptitious recording’ under those guidelines.”
Hat Tip Drudge
Update: Another great take on this over at USS Neverdock.