Hecklers: BBC refutes Tory claims

By Caitlin Pike

The BBC 3 programme on the history of heckling was broadcast as
planned on Monday night – despite an official protest from the
Conservative Party’s head of communications, accusing BBC producers of
serious misconduct.

Guy Black wrote to Helen Boaden, the BBC’s head of news, accusing
the production team of equipping hecklers with microphones at a meeting
with Michael Howard, in order to create a news event.

Boaden
replied, contesting Black’s account of what happened at the meeting in
Bolton and his criticisms of the staff working on the programme. In his
letter, Black asked for an apology and a promise that the footage never
be shown.

Boaden wrote: “At the outset I would like to make clear
that there was absolutely no intention to disrupt Michael Howard’s
meeting, or any others, to create a news event. In the event, no news
was created until your letter was supplied to three national Sunday
newspapers.”

In her letter, Boaden also challenged some of the
reporting of events: “The hecklers were not ‘clearly hostile to the
Conservative Party’ and The Sunday Telegraph quotes ‘Michael Howard is
a liar’, ‘You can’t trust the Tories’ and ‘You can only trust Tony
Blair’ are simply untrue. Some of their [the hecklers] comments were
supportive of Mr Howard’s attacks on the Labour Party and Mr Blair.”

Boaden
defended the methods used to produce the programme. The BBC’s chief
political adviser had been involved. Despite the amusing tone of The
Hecklers, Boaden said it had a serious purpose and was appropriate for
a BBC 3 audience who “generally turn away from politics”.

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