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Tuesday, 16 July, 2002, 16:13 GMT 17:13 UK
Tory leader attacks BBC politics plan
Question Time
The BBC is reviewing all political coverage
Iain Duncan Smith has launched a scathing attack on BBC governors, claiming they are launching a "counsel of despair" in a review of the corporation's political output.

The Tory leader urged the BBC to "stop, pause and think again" about proposals on how to cover the political agenda, which he said could affect the way the public views politics.


There are absolutely no plans to 'downgrade' our political coverage - and there never have been

BBC statement
His comments contradict BBC chairman Gavyn Davies' assurances that political coverage will not be "dumbed down".

And in a statement, the BBC said Mr Duncan Smith appeared to be "badly misinformed" about the corporation's plans.

During a speech to Westminster journalists on Tuesday, Mr Duncan Smith said: "Tomorrow the BBC governors are meeting to discuss plans to downgrade the corporation's political programming.

"They claim their audience is no longer interested and that instead they will make the rest of their output more political."

Political relevance

Mr Duncan Smith said he "did not know specifically what the governors are planning".


The BBC governors are meeting to discuss plans to downgrade the corporation's political programming

Iain Duncan Smith
"All I know is what I hear, that there are plans to shoot down a whole series of political programmes on pure politics."

He stressed: "Of course we must all play our part to make politics more relevant to people's lives: both politicians and those who report on politics.

"And we must recognise that our conduct and tone and language and our arguments need to engage voters rather than to turn them off.

"But if you take politicians out of politics, you bring the entire democratic process into question.

Flagship shows

"This can only benefit those who have power at the expense of those who don't."

Duncan Smith is "misinformed", the BBC says
Mr Duncan Smith added: "The BBC's proposals are a counsel of despair and I urge its governors in the strongest possible terms to thing again."

But the BBC responded to the comments by saying there were no plans to "downgrade" political coverage.

"There are absolutely no plans to 'downgrade' our political coverage - and there never have been," the corporation said.

"There is no question that the BBC will continue to fulfil its responsibility towards serious coverage of politics and Parliament.

Concern

"The BBC is also developing additional plans, in the face of growing apathy in some sections of the electorate, to attract new viewers to political programming and the democratic process.

"These plans will be considered by the BBC Board of Governors in the autumn."

Earlier this year Labour and Conservative politicians expressed concern that the BBC was to scrap some of its flagship political shows.

But replying to a letter from Labour chairman Charles Clarke and his Tory counterpart David Davis earlier this year, BBC chairman Mr Davies insisted that there were no plans to reduce the volume of political programming or the amount of money spent on them.

"I can reassure you immediately - no-one at the BBC has any desire to reduce or 'dumb down' our political coverage, and this will not happen," he said.

'New ideas'

But he did warn the politicians to expect some changes to the style of coverage in order to try to attract viewers who were disillusioned by insular Westminster reporting.

The BBC was still committed to providing "the best political coverage available in UK broadcasting", he wrote after consulting Director General Greg Dyke and Director of News Richard Sambrook.

"However, we want to develop new ideas, formats and approaches, which will broaden the range and reach of our programming and attract new audiences for politics."

During his speech, Mr Duncan Smith also insisted that he would reverse changes to the way journalists are briefed at Westminster.

He said he would preserve "the essence" of the parliamentary lobby system and would consider holding some briefings to accredited journalists on camera.

See also:

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