Number 10 accused of 'Trumpian' tactics over Today programme boycott

Posted On: 
23rd December 2019

The editor of Radio 4's Today programme has accused Downing Street of deploying "Trumpian" tactics after ministers were banned from appearing on the flagship morning show.

Sarah Sands, the editor of the Today programme on BBC Radio 4
Credit: 
PA

Sarah Sands said the Government was using its election majority to "put the foot on the windpipe" of the broadcaster as she claimed individual ministers were  “rather puzzled” by the ban.

Number 10 has refused to put up any ministers to appear on the programme since the election weekend, with a source claiming the BBC spoke only to "a pro-Remain metropolitan bubble in Islington" during the campaign.

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They told the Mail on Sunday: "The Today programme is irrelevant, it is not a serious programme any more so we are not going to engage with it – it is far better for us to put people up on BBC Breakfast and Five Live."

But Ms Sands hit out at the "discourteous" move by the Government, likening the boycott to US President Donald Trump's long-running feuds with the media.

She told Radio 4's Feedback: "What’s happened is that you can see the government won a big majority.

"It sees Labour in disarray and it thinks it’s a pretty good time to put the foot on the windpipe of an independent broadcaster. So the strategy is quite Trumpian: to delegitimise the BBC."

Ms Sands said individual ministers had been "rather puzzled" by the boycott, but predicted that "peace would break out" its Downing Street after the Christmas break.

Her comments came as the director general of the BBC Lord Hall defended the corporation’s election coverage, which has come under fire from both Labour and Conservative supporters.

Writing in The Telegraph, he said: "Around 27 million people in the UK came to the BBC website to find out about the election results. It was a reminder of the trust people place in the BBC.

"Yes, of course we faced some criticism for our election coverage. That is to be expected as the national broadcaster. Where we can and need to improve we will.

"But the fact criticism came from all sides of the political divide shows to me that we were doing our job without fear or favour."

The intervention from the BBC chief follows a hint from Boris Johnson that the Government could review the broadcaster's license fee funding model.

He said during the election campaign: “At this stage we are not planning to get rid of all licence fees, though I am certainly looking at it. I’m under pressure not to extemporise policy on the hoof.

"But you have to ask yourself whether that kind of approach to funding a TV media organisation still makes sense in the long term given the way other media organisations manage to fund themselves.

"The system of funding out of effectively a general tax bears reflection. How long can you justify a system whereby everybody who has a TV has to pay to fund a particular set of TV and radio channels?"