The BBC hit back on Tuesday after Government minister Huw Merriman attacked an award-winning journalist and a radio comedy show in a row over “bias” at BBC News.
Grilled by Kay Burley on Sky News, the railways minister alleged that a BBC reporter he named as “Neil Buchanan” was biased against the Government’s welfare reforms.
He meant social affairs correspondent Michael Buchanan, who reported on Universal Credit reforms in 2018 when Mr Merriman had a junior role at the Department for Work and Pensions.
The minister also cited mockery of the Government on The News Quiz, a satirical show on Radio 4, as evidence that the news operation is not impartial.
A BBC spokesperson said: “We’re confident our audiences know the difference between a longstanding and popular satirical comedy show and our news reporting.”
The spokesperson added: “Michael’s an excellent and impartial journalist who was named RTS specialist journalist of the year last year, not to be confused with the presenter of a children’s art programme from the 1990s.”
Neil Buchanan presented Art Attack, which was shown on ITV between 1990 and 2007.
Labour shadow culture secretary Thangam Debbonaire tweeted: “The Government spending another day undermining the BBC, this time for supposed bias in a satirical news quiz, is laughable.
“Is this the Tories for the next few months? Is this really all they have to offer working people? Scraping the barrel.”
Pressed by Ms Burley for evidence of bias at BBC News, Mr Merriman cited The News Quiz after the latest episode of the comedy programme went out on Friday evening.
“I was driving from my constituency office to home. For 10 minutes, all I heard - and it wasn't satirical - it was just diatribe against Conservatives, not the Government,” he said.
“And I did listen to that and think for goodness sake, where is the balance in that? So yes, I'm afraid to say despite the fact that I've always been a big supporter of the BBC, that struck me as completely biased."
Ms Burley pressed the point that the programme is comedy, not news. Mr Merriman replied: “I love it when politicians get lampooned, but that was the whole point. There wasn't actually anything in it in that particular regard, which struck me as being sort of amusing.”
The minister also said about the Universal Credit controversy: “There was an individual there who would report on it, Neil Buchanan, who I always felt gave one side of the story and not the other side, which was the Government side that I was working really hard on.”
Rishi Sunak's official spokesman declined to repeat the line of attack on the BBC reporter, but restated that allegations of bias against the broadcaster have been increasing from the public.
Mr Merriman's allegations came after Culture Secretary Lucy Frazer struggled to give Ms Burley specific evidence on Monday to prove Government claims that BBC News is guilty of bias.
The Government says regulator Ofcom could gain enforcement action over BBC News website articles if it feels they do not meet relevant broadcast standards.
Commentators on social media responded to Mr Merriman with scorn including two guests from Friday's edition of The News Quiz - Robin Morgan and Ayesha Hazarika.
Times Radio presenter Ms Hazarika, a former Labour adviser, said on X (formerly Twitter): "Last week (Labour leader Keir) Starmer had the piss ripped out of him. And if he wins, that will happen on a weekly basis. That’s how it works."
Former Labour Home Secretary Jacqui Smith tweeted: "Dear @HuwMerriman Please be assured that the News Quiz absolutely monstered me when I was in government."
Former England rugby player Brian Moore commented: “The News Quiz is the only example that two Tory Ministers have been able to name in their allegations of BBC bias.
“They've had two days to look at this and a satirical comedy radio excerpt is the best they can come up with. Pitiful.”
Hat Trick, the independent producers of BBC TV's Have I Got News For You, also ridiculed Mr Merriman's case of mistaken identity.
They said Ian Hislop, Paul Merton and guest host Alexander Armstrong would not be commenting - over a photo of the cast of 1990s children's game show Fun House.