This is awful.
The BBC was last night plunged into a damaging general election row after it admitted equipping three hecklers with microphones and sending them into a campaign meeting addressed by Michael Howard, the Conservative leader.
The Tories have made an official protest after the hecklers, who were given the microphones by producers, were caught at a party event in the North West last week. Guy Black, the party's head of communications, wrote in a letter to Helen Boaden, the BBC's director of news, that the hecklers began shouting slogans that were "distracting and clearly hostile to the Conservative Party".
These included "Michael Howard is a liar", "You can't trust the Tories" and "You can only trust Tony Blair".
Mr Black's strongly-worded letter accused the BBC of staging the event "to generate a false news story and dramatise coverage. . . intended to embarrass or ridicule the leader of the Conservative Party". The letter said that BBC staff were guilty of "serious misconduct". At least one of the hecklers was seen again at a Tory event in the North East, Mr Black added.
Last night, the BBC claimed that the exercise was part of a "completely legitimate programme about the history and art of political heckling" and said that other parties' meetings were being "observed". However, The Telegraph has established that none of Tony Blair's meetings was infiltrated or disrupted in similar fashion. [...]
The Conservatives have called for an apology and an assurance that no such incident will occur again. It has also demanded that the BBC promises never to broadcast the footage. The corporation said it would investigate "very fully". It and other broadcasters have a statutory duty to remain impartial during election campaigns. The corporation's guidelines for producers state: "Our audiences rightly expect the highest editorial and ethical standards from the BBC."
Tory officials became suspicious at the meeting in Horwich, near Bolton, last Wednesday, when they saw BBC camera crew focusing on the hecklers rather than Mr Howard. They twice challenged the two men and a woman involved, and discovered they had been equipped with radio microphones.
Erg. Not that I really enjoy the thought of a Conservative ascendancy in Britain - they're more quasi-socialist Paleocons than anything, entirely failing to grasp (as Mark Steyn notes
) the One Big Thing - but this is inexcusable. While it's obvious to anyone with a pulse that state broadcasters are rarely the unbiased icons of objectivity they like to pretend to be, this goes further than usual. Officially lacking partisan politics means only that the Right-Thinking can quietly self-select the like-minded in peace, and giggle to themselves over the idiot proles who don't buy the
The CBC is guilty of this same nasty, claimedly-apolitical behaviour, of course, though they've never been quite so blatant either. It's always part of the unrepetantly unfunny comedy lineup, and often involving Rick Mercer, who for some reason seems to reserve the greater part of his bile for Tories and Americans, only gently poking fun at all others. Funny how that works, huh?
Last night a BBC spokesman said: "This is a completely legitimate programme about the history and art of political heckling. The programme observes hecklers at other parties' campaign meetings and not just the Conservatives. The hecklers were not under the direction of the BBC and their activities did not disrupt the meeting in any way. The incident at the Michael Howard meeting only plays a small part in the overall programme. However, we will be investigating the complaint very fully and will be replying in due course."
The problem here is the very existence of a state broadcaster, which by its inherent nature can't fail to become a partisan body. There's nothing wrong with that in itself, but there's no valid reason to subsidize such a broadcaster with public funds, whether in the form of a harshly-administered user fee or out of the general revenue.