Burnham attacks BBC demo coverage
Andy Burnham has asked the BBC to review the quality of its coverage of a protest in which an estimated 50,000 people marched against Government austerity cuts.
The shadow health secretary has written to Lord Patten, BBC Trust chairman, to express his dismay at the "cursory coverage" in BBC news bulletins of the protest in Manchester, which took place on the opening day of the Conservative Party conference.
He said the BBC's reporting did not appear to reflect it was a "major national protest" and only mentioned the event in the wider context of the Tory conference, also held in Manchester, rather than seek to explain why people attended in large numbers.
Other major news channels covered the story in more depth and interviewed protesters, according to the former health secretary.
Mr Burnham added s ocial media comments had expressed concerns that the BBC's coverage "follows a pattern", as he referenced complaints about a "perceived failure adequately to cover the changes to the NHS" before and after the Health and Social Care Act 2012.
The legislation is part of the Government's attempts to "modernise the NHS", although Labour claims it has led to a "frightening'' increase in the pace of privatisation.
Mr Burnham addressed a rally after yesterday's march although shouts of "hypocrite" and "you must keep your word" were heard as he pledged that the next Labour government would repeal the Act and put "people before profit".
In his letter to Lord Patten, Mr Burnham said: "My purpose in writing to you is not, at this stage, to make a formal complaint but rather to request that the trust conduct a review of the extent and quality of the BBC coverage and to provide me with a considered opinion as to whether you consider it to have been adequate given the scale and social significance of the event.
"In particular, I would be grateful to know how many journalists and cameras were sent by the BBC to provide direct coverage of the event."
The aim of the protest was to highlight the impact of Government policies on jobs and spending across the health service, as well as the "rapid sell-off" of the most lucrative parts of the NHS to private healthcare companies, according to organisers.
Greater Manchester Police said the protest - said to be the largest ever dealt with by the force - passed off peacefully in the most part, with two arrests for breaches of the peace.
Mr Burnham said he was proud to walk alongside doctors, nurses and other frontline NHS staff who had given up their Sunday in the "hope of making their voice heard".
He said he believed NHS staff made up a significant proportion of the crowd, adding in his letter to Lord Patten: "It was therefore a real surprise to me to return home to find what I consider only cursory coverage of the event on BBC news bulletins.
"As far I could see, there was no specific coverage and it was only mentioned in the wider context of Conservative Party conference. There was no explanation as to why people were there in such large numbers nor direct interviews with participants to find out what had prompted them to travel so far on a Sunday.
"By any reckoning, this was a major national protest and it seems to me that the BBC's coverage did not reflect this. Indeed, other major news channels seemed to reach a different editorial judgment, covering the story in more depth and interviewing participants."
A BBC Trust spokeswoman said: " We can confirm that we have received Mr Burnham's letter; we will respond in due course."
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