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Helen Boaden

Red tape reporting


In a blog post entitled How BBC does Labour's dirty work, Iain Dale wrote that our coverage on Sunday of John Redwood's proposals to cut £14bn in red tape gave undue prominence to the Labour party's reaction to them. He writes: "[T]he BBC are starting all their news bulletins about John Redwood's Competitiveness Commission reports with the words...'The Labour Party has today criticised...' This has happened many times before. Instead of concentrating on the substance of a Tory policy announcement the BBC seem to revel in giving Labour Ministers the microphone to explain how whatever the policy happens to be is making the Tories more right wing than Michael Howard."

Voter X, a commenter to the same blog post, said that the use in a TV report of footage of John Redwood "failing abysmally to sing the Welsh Anthem" appeared to be "totally irrelevant and somewhat slanted". It's a line which was picked up in this morning's Sun, which claimed the BBC had made a joke of Mr Redwood's proposals. It also claimed that "the caustic bulletins could have been scripted by Labour ministers".

In retrospect we weren't right to use that footage again, which came from a long time ago. But as for the claims about the wordings of the bulletins, the facts just don't support Iain or the Sun. For the record, here are the opening words from each of our news stories:

BBC One/News 24, 6am: The Conservative leader, David Cameron, is considering radical plans to help businesses cut 14 billion pounds a year by cutting red tape and regulation. The proposals have been put forward by a senior figure on the right of the party, John Redwood. Labour says it's evidence the right had regained control of the Tory agenda.

Radio 4, 8am: "The Conservative leader, David Cameron, is considering radical plans to cut 14 billion pounds in red tape and regulation -- put forward by a senior figure on the right of his party, John Redwood. Labour says it's evidence the right has regained control of the Tory agenda."

Radio 2, 11am: "The Conservative leader, David Cameron, is considering plans to cut fourteen billion pounds in red tape and regulation, put forward by the senior right-winger, John Redwood. Labour says it's evidence those on the right are back in control of the Tory agenda. Mr Redwood wouldn't be drawn on specific details of his proposals."

BBC News website, Ceefax and Digital Text: "Tory leader David Cameron is looking at plans to cut £14bn in red tape and regulation for UK businesses. The plans have been put forward by John Redwood - one of the most senior figures on the Tory right - who called them "a tax cut by any other name". The focus is on easing regulation such as data protection laws, rules on hours, and health and safety regimes. Labour claims the proposals show the party is lurching back to the right in the face of disappointing polls."

Five Live, 11am: "Labour has condemned the latest review of policy carried out by the Conservatives as a lurch back to the right wing of politics. The review -- led by John Redwood -- identifies ways of deregulating business. The secretary of state for business, John Hutton, said the Tories were now more right wing than they had been under William Hague and Michael Howard.

News 24, noon: "The Conservative leader, David Cameron, is considering radical plans which the party claims could save businesses 14 billion pounds a year. The proposals would cut red tape and regulation, including data protection laws, and health and safety legislation.

BBC One, Lunchtime news, noon:
"Good afternoon. The Conservative leader, David Cameron, is considering radical plans which would cut fourteen billion pounds in red tape and regulations for businesses in the UK. They've been put forward by the former Cabinet minister, John Redwood. Labour claim that the right wing is taking control of the Tory party."

BBC One, 6.05pm: "It's being called a 'tax cut by any other name'. The Conservative leader David Cameron is considering a radical programme of cuts in red tape and regulation."

BBC One, 10pm:
"The Conservative leader David Cameron is considering a radical programme of cuts in red tape and regulation, especially for small businesses."

In addition, John Redwood was interviewed at length about his report by Peter Sissons on BBC One and News 24 on Sunday morning, on Five Live on Sunday, and on Radio 4's World Tonight on Monday. Naturally we included in our coverage the reaction from the Labour party, and also from the LibDems, the CBI and the TUC. There can be a temptation sometimes to present stories as merely matters of party politics, but despite what the Sun says, we believe that we gave good consideration to the substance of the proposals.

Helen Boaden is director, BBC News

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