Relations between the BBC and the Labour Government reached an all-time low during the General Election, the BBC’s deputy director of news, Mark Damazer, claimed on Monday.
He said he could not remember "a more fragile state of affairs between the BBC and the Labour Party.
The Labour Party’s press officers "went ballistic" when they found out about the Panorama investigation into the National Health Service, claimed Damazer at the Media Guardian’s debate, Election 2001: How was it for You? "They are opposed to anything but the most pasteurised form of coverage," he said. "They hated it from the moment they found out about it."
Damazer was answering claims by political editor of Sky News, Adam Boulton, that the BBC and ITV were more likely "to be sympathetic to the feelings of the Government" because they were both dependent on it in different ways for their existence.
Damazer said that although there was "always the perception" that the BBC was compromised by its reliance on the government for its licence fee, he "didn’t recognise the portrait" painted by Boulton.
In his round-up of the campaign, Boulton said he was "fed up" with the suggestion of "bias or proprietal interference" from BSkyB boss Rupert Murdoch. "I have never discussed political coverage with Murdoch or any other News Corp executive," he said.
Boulton’s criticism of ITV as well as the BBC was a surprise to some industry insiders, coming as a Sky News-led consortium gears up for a bidding war to wrestle the £43m contract from ITN to provide news for ITV.
ITV is expected to put out tenders within the next few weeks for the contract, which is due for renewal in 2002.
Answering Boulton’s criticisms, Steve Anderson, ITV’s head of news and current affairs, denied the broadcaster was less likely to criticise the Government because of its reliance on legislation for its existence and said that throughout the election campaign, ITN’s news editor, Nigel Dacre, received numerous calls from Millbank registering disapproval of its coverage.
Boulton said the letter from Labour’s general secretary, Margaret McDonagh, accusing the BBC, Sky News and ITN of collusion with protesters in the second week of the campaign was an attempt by the party to deflect attention from the ‘Prescott punch’.
Channel 4 News political editor Elinor Goodman who interviewed Tony Blair about the media and its role in the campaign, said the parties’ staged campaigns invited "hold your nose cynicism" from the journalists.
By Julie Tomlin