Days after a general election win, the U.K. Conservative government of Boris Johnson has indicated it will boycott a leading BBC radio show over perceived election campaign bias.
According to the Telegraph, Tory sources say the party is set to “withdraw engagement” from Radio 4’s Today show, owing to what they say is a “failure” of BBC management during the recent election, which Johnson’s party won easily.
One constant theme of the election campaign was Johnson’s reluctance to engage the media on key issues. The Telegraph reports that one segment the Tories are now taking issue with is a monologue by the broadcaster Andrew Neil, in which Neil slammed Johnson for turning down an interview with him.
Tories are also said to have taken exception to the BBC’s coverage of an image circulated in the final days of the campaign, in which a four-year-old boy was seen sleeping on a hospital floor even though he had suspected pneumonia. Johnson was repeatedly accused by the media of dodging questions about the child, and at one point even snatched an ITV reporter’s phone and put it in his pocket, after the reporter had tried to show him an image of the boy.
Now, the new government is said to be thinking about decriminalizing the non-payment of television licences — something which would impact the publicly-funded BBC to a great degree. Johnson threatened, during the campaign, to get rid of the public fee which sustains the BBC altogether, saying other media groups funded themselves. The Guardian reports that the licence fee in its current form runs until 2027; the BBC has said that any move to decriminalize its non-payment would impact it to the tune of $350 million.
The Guardian reported that Labour, too, have had their own issues with the BBC — including the removal, by editing, of audience laughter aimed at Johnson during a televised debate. In an email to the Guardian, BBC director general Tony Hall responded to the claims of bias from both sides.
“In a frenetic campaign where we’ve produced hundreds of hours of output, of course we’ve made the odd mistake and we’ve held up our hands to them,” he said. “Editors are making tough calls every minute of the day. But I don’t accept the view of those critics who jump on a handful of examples to suggest we’re somehow biased one way or the other.”
Channel 4’s election coverage has also been slammed by the Tories.
In a move that gained widespread attention, the channel used an ice sculpture in Johnson’s place after he turned down a chance to debate the global climate crisis. The Guardian reports that the party is also set to examine Channel 4’s own “public service broadcasting obligations,” now that Johnson has a new election mandate.
Channel 4 does not receive any public funding, unlike the BBC.