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Labour: UK media inciting protests

Prescott brawl
Labour has accused broadcasters of inciting protests just days after John Prescott punched a demonstrator  

LONDON, England -- Britain's Labour Party has complained that television news crews following Prime Minister Tony Blair and other ministers on the general election campaign trail have colluded with protesters.

The party held discussions on Monday with senior representatives of the three main broadcasting organisations -- the BBC, ITN and Sky -- after Labour General Secretary Margaret McDonagh issued a formal complaint.

In a confidential letter sent to the broadcasters on Friday, she claimed some crews had crossed the line between reporting and making news.

It was written just two days after Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott punched a demonstrator in Wales, in full view of the cameras, after an egg was thrown at him.

Although the letter did not refer to a specific incident, it was reported that Labour sources had claimed some crews had pushed protesters forward in the hope of generating a confrontation during Blair's visit to East Anglia on Friday.

They were said to have pushed people "in the right direction" towards the prime minister in a bid to engage him in a confrontation similar to the one he had with the partner of a cancer patient at a Birmingam hospital earlier that week.

McDonagh's letter claimed that such behaviour "puts at risk the safety of Labour Party staff, politicians and the public."

The broadcasters firmly rejected the allegations, insisting there was no evidence to justify the complaint.

The BBC and ITN both said they had found nothing to substantiate the claims, while a spokesman for Sky said: "From our discussions with the Labour Party, it appears that Sky was not the focus of their complaint."

Labour was seeking to play down the incident at its daily election press briefing on Tuesday.

Tony Blair told reporters that safety concerns had been raised and dealt with and the "matter was now closed." Chancellor Gordon Brown referred to two members of Labour's staff being knocked down, but said the party wanted to continue meeting members of the public.

The opposition Conservative Party strongly condemned the way Labour had acted, with chairman Michael Ancram accusing the party of "control freakery".

"All politicians accept the rough and tumble of an election campaign. This is an amazing and serious allegation ... against respected broadcasters from all the main networks," he said.

Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy told his election news conference that he had not seen any evidence that the media were behaving in the way suggested by Labour.

"And if these opinion polls are to be believed what on earth are they (Labour) so thin-skinned about? It really is pathetic," he said.

• Labour Party
• Conservative Party
• Liberal Democrats

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