To BBC Chairman, Michael Grade
CC. BBC Director General, Mark Thompson and Editor of the BBC Ten O'Clock News, Kate McAndrew

Dear Sir,

Re: complaint about BBC 10 o'clock news Friday 12 May

I am writing to make a formal complaint about the BBC 10 o'clock News coverage of the House of Lords debate on Lord Joffe's Assisted Dying for the Terminally Ill Bill on Friday 12 May.

The Care Not Killing Alliance had over ten different spokespeople involved during the day on BBC programmes and in general we felt the BBC news coverage of the event (especially Radio 4, 5 Live and BBC News 24) was fair and balanced giving both sides of the debate and a good overview of the issues.

By contrast the 10 o'clock news programme, especially the two-way between Fiona Bruce and Fergus Walsh, was superficial, unfair, factually inaccurate, poorly researched, one-sided and ultimately unprofessional. I have appended a transcript of the coverage with inserted comments to amplify our concerns, but our general complaints are as follows:

  1. Public opinion polls supporting the pro-euthanasia position were presented uncritically without any mention of a significant recent poll showing the exact opposite.
  2. No mention whatsoever was made of the fact that medical opinion is firmly opposed to any change in the law.
  3. The opposition to euthanasia was caricaturised as being solely religious, whereas in fact it is broad-based.
  4. Our side of the argument; for example the right to die becoming a duty to die, and that it is possible almost always to kill the pain without killing patient, was not put.
  5. There was little mention of the contribution of palliative care and the fact that requests for assisted dying are extremely rare when patients' physical, psychosocial and spiritual needs are being properly catered for.
  6. The highly controversial case of Dr Ann Turner was used uncritically, and it was not pointed out that she would not have qualified under the proposed law for assisted suicide anyway.
  7. The implication that this vote was only a temporary setback trivialised parliamentary procedure and the margin of the bill's defeat in the Lords. There is no way can a Bill be brought back immediately after a heavy defeat and it was quite simply political nonsense to suggest this.

In giving comments, Fergus Walsh's own personal sympathy with the pro-euthanasia lobby was clearly evident and he seemed to have no knowledge of issues raised in the debate during the day. He is of course entitled to his personal convictions, but as a BBC employee should not allow these to detract from giving an objective and balanced account of the issues.

Specifically we would ask for:

  1. An apology and correction of the factual errors
  2. Information about whether Fergus Walsh spoke to anyone on our side of the debate in order that he could contribute to the programme in a properly informed way (and if so who).

I look forward to hearing from you at your earliest convenience.

Yours sincerely

Peter Saunders
Campaign Director
Care Not Killing