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No 10 accused of ‘abusing BBC neutrality’ during election campaign

Prime minister Boris Johnson during a coronavirus press briefing broadcast on TV - Credit: PA

Downing Street has been accused of “abusing BBC neutrality” by hosting daily coronavirus briefings which attack opponents during the election period.

The BBC has held urgent talks over the briefings after opposition parties including the SNP accused the prime minister of going on a “political rant” at the latest event.

During Monday’s briefing, the prime minister blamed the “current Labour mayor” for “blowing” the finances at Transport for London – only for Sadiq Khan to consider a formal complaint accusing Johnson of lying.

Labour claim that it is not the first attack the PM has made on Khan in recent weeks.

Now the broadcaster is said to have held internal talks over what to do with the PM’s attempts to make political attacks on opposition politicians during the press conferences, due to the strict impartiality rules surrounding broadcasters during election campaigns.

Speaking to Politico, a BBC insider said: “A one-off can probably be forgotten but if it becomes a regular and deliberate theme then the issues are obvious.”

John Nicolson, the SNP’s media spokesman at Westminster, explained: “Boris Johnson’s political rants on live television are abusing BBC neutrality.

“His briefings are meant to be about public health advice not party politics. 

“The first minister [Nicola Sturgeon] quite rightly remains apolitical during her health briefings.  

“These briefings were set up to give the public impartial health advice to help keep people safe and understand the COVID restrictions. 

“The PM is putting the BBC in an invidious position. But if he won’t behave it must enforce its own rules over impartiality and electoral law.”

Last month the Scottish Tories criticised the BBC for airing the Scottish government’s coronavirus updates during the Holyrood election campaign.

Leader Douglas Ross claimed the broadcasts would “have deeply damaging consequences for democracy in Scotland.”

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