BBC stands firm against minister's criticism of Panorama show on PPE

Oliver Dowden complains about investigation into shortages of kit during coronavirus crisis

The BBC has stood by its defence of a Panorama investigation exposing shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE) among healthcare workers, after a formal complaint from the culture secretary.

Oliver Dowden, in a letter to the BBC director general, Tony Hall, claimed the corporation was at risk of losing the public’s confidence amid accusations of political bias.

Last week Panorama reported that gowns, visors, swabs and body bags were left out of the government’s stockpile when it was set up in 2009. Some of the items are now in short supply.

Since the programme aired, a number of NHS workers who were interviewed for it were reported to be either longstanding members or supporters of the Labour party.

Dowden also referred to another recent incident in which the BBC admitted it had made a mistake by reporting that a boss of an NHS trust had contacted the broadcaster with concerns about the provision of gowns for staff during the coronavirus crisis.

“I am sure you will agree that it is vital that public confidence is maintained in the BBC’s longstanding reputation for fair and balanced reporting, and that any damage to that would be deeply concerning,” wrote Dowden.

The minister also said he was aware the Panorama programme had been the subject of a number of complaints to the broadcasting regulator, Ofcom.

“Concerns have been raised that a disproportionate number of those interviewed in the programme were political activists or had clear links to a political party. This both was not made clear to viewers and does not reflect the balance of views of an institution as large as the NHS,” he wrote in the letter, excerpts of which have been published by the Mail on Sunday.

A spokesperson for the BBC confirmed on Sunday that it had received Dowden’s letter, adding it would respond in due course. It referred to a statement issued last week that said sources for its PPE revelations were not the doctors who appeared on the show.

The BBC’s journalists had spoken to dozens of healthcare workers in the course of making the programme, some of whom were members of a political party and some not, it said.

Given that NHS trusts had discouraged healthcare workers from discussing the lack of PPE, the statement said it was perhaps not surprising that those willing to speak out were more involved with campaigning around the NHS.

Responding further on Sunday in relation to Dowden’s letter, a BBC spokesperson said the broadcaster would like to highlight comments by the prime minister earlier this week in relation to PPE.

Speaking at the No 10 briefing for the first time since recovering from the virus, Boris Johnson said: “I’m not going to minimise the logistical problems we’ve faced in getting the right protective gear to the right people in the right place, both in the NHS and care homes.”

There was also support for the BBC from figures including the broadcaster James O’Brien, who said of Dowden’s letter: “I read this twice and can’t see a single reference to, never mind refutation of, the testimony given by the medics on the programme. It’s the starkest example yet that the Vote Leave government is trying to make confected tribal allegiance more important than evidence. Again.”

Alan Rusbridger, the principal of Lady Margaret Hall, University of Oxford, and a former editor of the Guardian, tweeted: “It’s really not the job of the culture secretary to bollock the BBC for what your govt regards as bias, @OliverDowden Leave that to @Ofcom.”

Contributor

Ben Quinn

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Oversupply of kits to care homes raises concern over Covid-19 test figures
Staff report being sent double orders, amid suspicion kits sent are being counted as tests done

Denis Campbell and Robert Booth

14, Jun, 2020 @4:42 PM

Article image
Covid-19: test all health and care workers weekly, says UK scientist
MPs hear ministers were told in April that systematic testing was essential to keep staff safe

Sarah Boseley Health editor

21, Jul, 2020 @3:11 PM

Article image
Concerns over death-in-service benefits keeping doctors from NHS frontline
Survey finds loss of benefits has made some doctors less willing to work in high-risk areas

Robert Booth and Denis Campbell

29, Mar, 2020 @12:59 PM

Article image
Don't coerce public over contact-tracing app, say campaigners
Liberty concerned coronavirus app could require people to share ‘deeply sensitive’ details

Matthew Weaver

26, Apr, 2020 @11:24 AM

Article image
UK doctors and health experts back Covid-19 'circuit breaker'
Medics favour series of short lockdowns ‘to buy time’ as chancellor Rishi Sunak says regional tiered action is best

Denis Campbell, Jessica Elgot and Heather Stewart

15, Oct, 2020 @7:13 AM

Article image
BAME Britons still lack protection from Covid, says doctors' chief
More than a third of coronavirus intensive care patients are from ethnic minorities

Haroon Siddique

20, Sep, 2020 @2:00 PM

Article image
Covid vaccine: chief medical officers defend rescheduling of second doses
Statement follows outcry from GPs who say cancelling appointments is waste of time and could lead to confusion among patients

Nicola Davis and Linda Geddes

31, Dec, 2020 @7:46 PM

Article image
UK to begin using Oxford Covid vaccine as PM strikes hopeful tone
Boris Johnson says he hopes pace of vaccination can be ramped up to protect tens of millions in months

Sarah Boseley Health editor

03, Jan, 2021 @7:46 PM

Article image
Hospitals in England told to prepare for Covid vaccine rollout in 10 days' time
Exclusive: NHS could receive first deliveries of Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine as soon as 7 December

Denis Campbell Health policy editor

27, Nov, 2020 @5:51 PM

Article image
Liverpool Covid admissions will 'devastate' other hospital care
Non-urgent operations at risk unless infection and admission rates fall, top doctor says

Denis Campbell Health policy editor

15, Oct, 2020 @11:25 AM