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Revealed: How Boris Johnson's team threatened journalists and smeared critics

By Adam Bienkov
28 May 2012, 07:33

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Boris Johnson’s communications chief threatened a “huge public fight” against the BBC if they went ahead with an interview with his biographer Sonia Purnell.

Emails from Guto Harri leaked to the Guardian threatened the broadcaster with a wave of attacks from “our friends in the papers” and “our good friends in No 10.”

One email to the BBC’s Will Walden, who is now taking over as Boris’s new communication chief reads:

“Dear Will. We are all sick of this at City Hall, and increasingly at Number 10. BBC London is in danger of causing real problems to all of us.” Pressing Walden on the question of who else he should raise his concerns with just minutes after raising it with two senior BBC figures in a separate email, he added: “If this interview run [sic] on Sunday, there’ll be a huge public fight.”

Last week I revealed how Boris’s press operation, led by Harri, ruthlessly controlled access to the mayor to all but the most friendly of media outlets.

Under Harri the BBC were subject to a barrage of complaints from City Hall about their coverage, with Boris’s Deputy Kit Malthouse being a particularly regular complainant.

During the election campaign, Boris’s whereabouts were withheld from BBC London and journalists at the organisation were forced to pre-submit questions before interviewing the mayor.

Boris’s biographer Sonia Purnell was also targeted by Boris’s team with smears about her previous relationship with Boris briefed to sympathetic journalists.

The attacks against the BBC, led by Boris himself, are especially striking given how overwhelmingly gentle the wider media coverage has been of Boris’s time as mayor.

Under Boris, potentially hugely damaging stories such as the pensions scandal at Visit London and the failure of Boris’s flagship mentoring scheme have gone unreported by all but BBC London, The Guardian and a handful of independent bloggers.

The rest of the Westminster press has focused almost solely on the relationship between Boris and David Cameron. London’s only dedicated newspaper is now both owned and edited by personal friends of the Mayor.

It is hard to think of a British politician who has been given an easier ride by the media over recent years.

The intimidatory tactics revealed in the past week give us some clue as to why that might be.

More on the smears against Sonia Purnell at The Guardian

BBC London’s statement on Guto Harri story

Adam Bienkov
Adam is a reporter for Politics.co.uk You can find links to his other work at AdamBienkov.com.

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