The Housing Minister Grant Shapps has sent the following letter to Helen Boaden the Director of News for the BBC.
"I wanted to write to you to raise my genuine concern about the way the BBC has chosen to handle and report the story about Newham’s letter on housing benefits today.
I know the BBC prides itself on being a news organisation that the public values and trusts so I was surprised that such an unbalanced story was aired with such prominence before the veracity of what l consider politically motivated claims made by Newham Council were fully checked out.
Your decision to lead on this story today is politically questionable and may be causing real alarm and distress to Newham social tenants. The local and London Mayoral pre-election Purdah period is always a time of heightened political sensitivity and this type of one-sided reporting can only serve to undermine the BBC’s reputation for political impartiality and objectivity.
The BBC should be looking to make every effort to consider the full picture by contacting all parties concerned well in advance so it can check the credibility of the claims being made before deciding to run a controversial story like this.
As it was the Government was only approached at nearly midnight last night to bid for a Minister to go on the Today Progralnme to respond to the claims. That is hardly fair warning and not a serious attempt to engage. It could even be construed as a deliberate attempt to empty chair or catch the government on the hop to cause a media furore. As l understand it Stoke Council was not contacted at all.
At best this episode indicates that the BBC has been hoodwìnked by politically driven scaremongering and at worst claims of complicity could be made. In the interests of transparency can you please clarify the following points:
- Why did the Today Programme choose to wait until nearly midnight before contacting the government for a response?
- When was the BBC first contacted by Newham council with this story?
- Why did the BBC not go to Newham or Stoke to check out the veracity of the story?
- Does the BBC think its coverage of this story is Consistent with its own election guidelines?
Given the widespread coverage this has caused I plan to place this letter in the public domain.
I look forward to receiving your swift response."