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The BBC's Jonathan Beale
"The fact that the letter has been leaked is deeply embarassing to Labour"
 real 56k

The BBC's Tim Franks
"I would find it extraordinary were broadcasters proved to have set anything up"
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Tuesday, 22 May, 2001, 07:33 GMT
Media 'incited protesters'
Sharron Storer confronts Tony Blair
The media is accused of prompting confrontations
Labour has accused broadcasters of "inciting and colluding with" anti-government protesters on the election trail.

The party has confirmed that its general secretary Margaret McDonagh has written confidentially to the BBC, ITN and Sky about "genuine concerns" surrounding the coverage of recent protests.

It seems as if they are unable to take the rough and tumble of being the defending government

Lib Dem Malcolm Bruce
The broadcasters have all denied the accusations.

News of the letter emerged on Tuesday as Labour was set to focus campaigning on the NHS, the Conservatives prepared to launch their manifesto for pensioners and the Liberal Democrats were due to concentrate on devolution.

Labour has so far declined to be drawn on specific complaints against broadcasters.

However there have been unattributed reports that Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott believed television crews had been tipped off by countryside protesters when he lashed out in Rhyl after an egg was thrown at him.

According to the Times newspaper, Labour sources have claimed that some television crews "pushed people in the right direction" in the hope of generating a confrontation such as the one that occurred between Tony Blair and Sharron Storer, the partner of a cancer patient, at a Birmingham hospital.

We have no evidence of any collusion and have told the Labour Party as such

BBC spokesman
Ms McDonagh's letter said such alleged behaviour "puts at risk the safety of Labour Party staff, politicians and the public", the newspaper said.

After news of the claims emerged Health Secretary Alan Milburn said although he had not seen it he was convinced "the last thing" voters were concerned about was issues surrounding election coverage.

"I know that people in the media are fixated by the media but what the public tend to be interested in are the big issues: health, education, crime, jobs."

However, the letter has still provided ammunition for the Tories and the Liberal Democrats in their accusations that Labour is out of touch with the feelings of real people.

Conservative Party vice-chairman Tim Collins told BBC News that Labour had "crossed the line" and accused the them of "third world ethics as far as the thuggery and intimidation of dissent is concerned".

Senior Liberal Democrat Malcolm Bruce said without specific allegations and evidence Labour's "whinge" at the media "takes the biscuit".

Senior figures from the broadcasters have met Ms McDonagh to discuss her concerns, but the BBC said it had "no evidence" of any collusion.

ITN and Sky also dismissed the accusation.

Campaign focus

Labour's proposals for the future of the NHS, to be announced on Tuesday morning, include an NHS 'university' specialising in the provision of professional skills for health workers.

A commitment to recruit an extra 20,000 nurses will also be announced.

The Conservative campaign will focus on pensioners with a pledge to increase the basic state pension by more than the rate of inflation.

The Lib Dems want to highlight their successes in the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly in an attempt to show the party can make a real difference in government.

They are also expected to keep up attacks on the Conservatives, with leader Charles Kennedy set to say they are "the weakest opposition for over 100 years".

Lady Thatcher
Lady Thatcher has given her backing to Mr Hague
William Hague's leadership of the Tories could be in the spotlight after a poll for BBC News Online suggested that he was trailing Tony Blair by 31 points in the popularity stakes, putting him neck and neck with Mr Kennedy.

But there was a boost for Mr Hague after the former Conservative prime minister, Lady Thatcher, entered the election fray with a strong endorsement of her successor.

In an interview with the Daily Mail newspaper, she said: "I think William is making a very good job of it".

Elsewhere on Tuesday, the SDLP will launch its election manifesto in Northern Ireland while the Greens kick off their London campaign.

It is also the last day for the delivery of election nomination papers.


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