Downing Street ‘boycotts’ Radio 4 Today programme over election ‘bias’ against Tories

PUBLISHED: 11:32 15 December 2019 | UPDATED: 16:38 15 December 2019

BBC Broadcasting House in Portland Place, London. Picture: PA

BBC Broadcasting House in Portland Place, London. Picture: PA

PA Wire/PA Images

Reports have emerged that Boris Johnson’s party will boycott BBC radio’s flagship current affairs programme over alleged bias in its election coverage of the Conservatives.

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Emboldened by the party's election victory, an unnamed No.10 source briefed the Mail on Sunday with the message that it would boycott the Today programme, which was also tweeted by BBC journalist John Simpson at the weekend.

It is the second major news outlet that the prime minister has hit out at in an election campaign marked by his refusal to attend keynote interviews and debates.

Yet a 'No. 10 source' said: "The BBC speaks to a pro-Remain metropolitan bubble in Islington, not the real world represented by Wakefield and Workington. There has been a failure by senior management at the BBC, and we expect them to launch an internal review of their performance."

The BBC told the Mail on Sunday the claims were "trumped up" and are part of an "agenda to use the new Tory majority to break the corporation's independence".

Indeed, the BBC has been repeatedly accused of bias in favour of the Conservatives. In one instance, political editor Laura Kuenssberg was the focus of intense criticism for using social media to repeat a brief directly from the Conservatives that an aide had been punched by a Labour activist, which later turned out to be untrue.

The prime minister sparked the first of several rows during the election campaign by refusing an interview with Andrew Neil, widely considered to be the most aggressive of the corporation's political interviewers and whose encounter with Jeremy Corbyn had been deeply bruising to the Labour leader's campaign.

Neil addressed the prime minister instead via a clip in which he outlined the questions he would have asked instead and highlighting his unwillingness to face scrutiny.

Johnson also snubbed the Channel 4 News televised climate hustings along with the Brexit Party. The broadcaster's decision to replace each absent party leader with an ice sculpture was determined by Ofcom not to have breached broadcasting code, despite the Tory party's complaints.

The Conservatives' general disdain for media scrutiny reached its height in farcical scenes when an ITV interviewer was sworn at by a party aide for asking when a promised interview would materialise - and the prime minister hid in a fridge.

The party has hinted at a review of Channel 4's broadcasting licence as well as a plan to decriminalise the non-payment of the BBC licence fee, a move that would see the corporation turn to a commercial model.

However, emboldened by its colossal election victory on Thursday the party has gone further on the offensive and is now briefing about a boycott of BBC radio's flagship news and current affairs, the Today programme.

The Mail On Sunday's source is widely assumed to be Boris Johnson's senior adviser Dominic Cummings, whose campaigning has been based on similarly populist messaging.

The reliance by news outlets on an 'unnamed No. 10 source' has in itself been a matter of concern for media commentators throughout the election, particularly on social media, and the source is widely assumed to be the prime minister's chief adviser Dominic Cummings.

Critics accuse Cummings of using media outlets as a mouthpiece for unattributed but influential statements to be spread.

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