BBC News director Fran Unsworth has said the broadcaster is “as disappointed as our audiences” that Boris Johnson has not confirmed a date for an interview with Andrew Neil ahead of next week’s election.
All other major party leaders, including Jeremy Corbyn, have either faced Neil in a half-hour grilling on BBC One or are scheduled to this week.
Johnson told Andrew Marr on Sunday that he was “perfectly happy to be interviewed by any interviewer called Andrew from the BBC”, however a date has yet be fixed with only eight days to go until polling day.
Writing in the Guardian today, Unsworth said: “The logistics of pinning down party leaders is highly complex – if we had to wait for confirmation of the date and time of every interview by every party before anyone appeared anywhere, hardly anything would get on air.
“But let’s be clear: we’ll clear our schedules and we’re ready at any time, and any place, for a half-hour interview in which Neil scrutinises Boris Johnson.”
Unsworth, who replaced James Harding as news director almost exactly two years ago, also took aim at claims of bias in BBC News election campaign coverage, which she described as “fanciful”.
She said the corporation had “broadcast hundreds of hours of programming” including a Question Time leaders’ special, which featured Johnson, and seven-way debate with members of the main parties.
A head-to-head between Johnson and Corbyn will air from 8pm to 9.30pm on BBC One this coming Friday, with the two leaders on stage together.
Unsworth said the BBC had also “ramped up” its Reality Check fact-checking service and published guides explaining policies, along with dedicated podcast Electioncast from the team behind Brexitcast.
She added: “But some people have chosen to ignore all of this and focused instead on a couple of editorial mistakes that they suggest are either emblematic of all our election coverage, or damning evidence of an editorial agenda that favours the Conservative party.”
The BBC faced criticism for editing out audience laughter directed at Johnson when a clip of the Question Time leaders’ special was shown in a news bulletin the following day. It admitted having made a “mistake”.
And it said there was a “lesson to be learned” after it used old footage of Johnson laying a wreath at the cenotaph on Remembrance Sunday, blaming the “high-pressure” newsroom environment for the error.
Unsworth said the BBC did not try to include opposing voices “in every single news report”, but that it looked to achieve fair and proportionate coverage “over time” and held itself to this standard.
The BBC recently forced Facebook to take down a Conservative Party election advert that it said “distorted” footage of its news reporters, including Laura Kuenssberg and Huw Edwards.
“This campaign has been unlike any before it,” said Unsworth. “Information is routinely weaponised. Our impartiality is precious to us and we will protect it.”