BBC News presenter Huw Edwards has hit out at parts of the press “where regulation is risibly weak and blatant propaganda can be passed off as ‘news'” in defending his colleagues against claims of political bias.
Edwards, who led the BBC’s 11-hour election night coverage on Thursday, said “dealing with relentlessly vitriolic attacks” made reporting the results “doubly challenging” for its journalists.
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The BBC’s election programming reached a total of 26.5m viewers across TV, radio and digital, the corporation has reported, with a record 27.3m browsers of the BBC News website in the UK.
Edwards has covered every general election since 1987 for the BBC, but took the lead for the first time this year after David Dimbleby stood down having spent 40 years heading up overnight coverage.
In a blog post published last night, Edwards lashed out at the “sometimes appalling levels of pressure from political parties and their puppets in parts of the press and elsewhere”.
“Providing a fair and balanced account of a complex election campaign – with feelings running high on all sides – is difficult enough,” he wrote.
“Trying to do so while dealing with relentlessly vitriolic attacks is doubly challenging. So I want to pay tribute to my colleagues for doing their best every day on behalf of the licence payer.”
Gavin and Stacey actor Matthew Horne apologised on Twitter after calling BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg a “disingenuous plopcarpet” and telling her to resign following her coverage of the election.
He later said: “I was caught up in the frenzy of the election and realise I used my public platform and passion for politics in an incorrect way. I regret this & we should stand together. Merry Christmas one and all.”
Kuenssberg accepted his apology, adding: “No-one wins when we scream and shout rather than talk – maybe Twitter could move on from being Bitter in 2020.”
PA reported that Downing Street refused to appear on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme at the weekend over its perceived pro-Remain basis.
Edwards addressed accusations of bias made against the BBC from both the left and the right during the election campaign, saying they were targeted at “journalists who are trying their best to provide a duly impartial service.
“This clearly does not apply to many of those hacks working in parts of the press and online, where regulation is risibly weak and blatant propaganda can be passed off as ‘news’,” Edwards said.
“And while I have the highest regard for parts of our press – which produce some of the best journalism and analysis anywhere in the world – it is still the case that the broadcast media are obliged by law to work to different editorial standards.
“This stark difference is sadly lost on many of those very clever (and often nameless) people shouting abuse on social media on an hourly basis.”
Edwards said the BBC’s thousands of journalists are “all committed to providing a fair service” but that they “sometimes make mistakes which we deeply regret”.
But he dismissed the “curious” notion that such mistakes are “carefully planned to undermine one party and boost another”, or that the BBC’s thousands of journalists work to one political agenda dictated to them from a few figures at the top of the corporation.
“The BBC is not, to put it politely, run like some newspapers, with an all-powerful proprietor and/or editor making his or her mark on the tone and direction of the coverage,” he said.
“BBC News is a rather unsettling mix of awkward, contrary and assertive people who (in my very long experience) delight in either ignoring the suggestions of managers or simply telling them where to get off. That’s how it works.”
The National Union of Journalists today spoke out in defence of BBC and Channel 4, which it said have been targeted by “flagrant bullying rhetoric” during the election campaign.
Treasury minister Rishi Sunak yesterday confirmed Boris Johnson has ordered a review of whether failure to pay the BBC licence fee should continue to be a criminal offence.
The Conservatives also reportedly threatened to review Channel 4’s licence if they won a majority in the election as a dispute between the two over coverage continued.
NUJ general secretary Michelle Stanistreet said the union would seek an urgent appointment with the new Culture Secretary, expected to be announced today to replace Nicky Morgan who stepped down ahead of the election, to seek protections for public service broadcasters.
Stanistreet said: “Let’s be clear – knee-jerk changes to the licence fee would massively damage BBC programmes and news.
“The corporation is already facing serious cuts in the coming year, with potentially more on the horizon. It needs greater resources, not an attempt to destabilise its very existence.
“The NUJ salutes the hard work and professionalism of its members who covered one of the most divisive and difficult of election campaigns.
“Of course some mistakes are made in the midst of wall-to-wall, 24 hour multi-platform coverage – that is no need to descend into threats, mudslinging and some of the most vile trolling of BBC journalists and staff on social media networks.”