BBC bosses told interviewers to ‘go easy’ on ministers during coronavirus, claims former presenter

PUBLISHED: 13:10 12 April 2020 | UPDATED: 13:22 18 April 2020

Health Secretary Matt Hancock arrives at BBC Broadcasting House in London to appear on the Andrew Marr show. Photograph: Aaron Chown/PA.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock arrives at BBC Broadcasting House in London to appear on the Andrew Marr show. Photograph: Aaron Chown/PA.

PA Wire/PA Images

Former Today programme presenter John Humphrys has claimed that BBC bosses are privately telling interviewers to go easy on ministers during the coronavirus outbreak.

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Writing for the Daily Mail in a weekly column, the former broadcaster wrote: “I’m told BBC bosses are warning interviewers not to put ministers under pressure.

“Why? If the questioning is well informed and polite, surely the tougher the better.

“All this stuff might be justified if we were at war. But we’re not. To talk of the virus as an enemy is to misunderstand the crisis with which we are faced.”

But the BBC denied the Humphrys’ claims, saying it was “emphatically not the case, as watching or listening to our interviews demonstrates”.

“It is the job of our journalists to challenge and question ministers on behalf of the public, while bearing in mind that we are in the middle of a public health emergency.”

Sources pointed to Mishal Husain grilling the health secretary Matt Hancock on the Today programme this week, asking if more lives could have been saved if the lockdown had started earlier.

Humphrys also claimed that the daily government briefings were becoming a “pretty inadequate way of getting answers”.

He said: “The chancellor Rishi Sunak - supported by scientific advisers - was able to get away with denying that the chief medical officer Chris Whitty had ever said that rigorous testing had been vital in enabling Germany to achieve many fewer deaths.


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“Well, he had, and Sunak should have been held to account.”

His views were echoed by former home secretary David Blunkett who said that the briefings were losing their purpose.

MORE: BBC presenter block pro-European Twitter users over criticisms of government handling of coronavirus

“They are becoming little more than a daily Sermon on the Mount, offering scant new information and, worse, often delivering large doses of hectoring.

“Worryingly, this could have the opposite effect than the one intended.

“The British people have never experienced totalitarianism and top-down diktats, so it’s not in our psyche to be bossed about by politicians.”

“That is why ministers must get the tone right.”

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