A bitter row between Labour and the BBC has erupted over the Corporation's 'unacceptable' handling of the resignation of a shadow minister live on air.
Seumas Milne, Jeremy Corbyn's director of strategy and communications, made a formal complaint to the BBC on Friday about its handling of Stephen Doughty's decision to quit in the shadow reshuffle this week.
But the BBC hit back, rejecting accusations that it had "orchestrated and stage-managed" the resignation of the junior shadow foreign office minister on its Daily Politics programme on Wednesday lunchtime.
And Mr Doughty himself ridiculed Mr Milne, Mr Corbyn and Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell for suggesting a "dark conspiracy theory" that was "embarrassing, embarrassing, embarrassing" and which handed a gift to Tory critics who want to muzzle the BBC.
On a day of claim and counter-claim, a spokesman for the Labour leader said: “By the BBC's own account, BBC journalists and presenters proposed and secured the resignation of a shadow minister on air in the immediate run-up to Prime Minister's Questions, apparently to ensure maximum news and political impact.
"That was evidently done before any notice of resignation was sent to the Labour leader. Such orchestration of political controversy is an unacceptable breach of the BBC's role and statutory obligations"
Responding, Robbie Gibb, Editor of BBC Live Political Programmes, highlighted the BBC's commitment to "producing impartial journalism” that “treats all political parties fairly,” while rejecting the charge that the Corporation the resignation.
Mr Gibb noted that Mr Doughty had “decided to resign his front-bench position on Wednesday morning, before speaking to any journalists.”
“He subsequently spoke to Laura Kuenssberg who asked if he would explain his reasons in an interview on the Daily Politics later that morning,” Gibb said. “Neither the programme production team, nor Laura, played any part in his decision to resign.”
Mr Gibb, who is the brother of Tory education minister Nick Gibb but is valued within the BBC as an impartial editor, added that it was a “long standing tradition that political programmes… seek to break stories".
However the decision to interview Mr Doughty ahead of PMQs was not designed to "promote a particular political narrative," as Labour suggested, he said.
BBC letter regarding Labour complaint over shadow minister resignation on Daily Politics pic.twitter.com/kWkCJxkvyo— BBC News Press Team (@BBCNewsPR) January 8, 2016
In a statement to HuffPost UK, Mr Doughty added: "To suggest that the BBC coerced me to resign is beyond ridiculous.
"As I have already made repeatedly clear - I had already made my own mind up to resign because of the appalling reason for Pat McFadden's sacking over his comments on terrorism, and because of his subsequent smearing by spin doctors who have spent weeks briefing proposed sackings of other senior Labour figures to journalists across the media.
"This new complaint suggesting some dark conspiracy theory is not only embarrassing, embarrassing, embarrassing - it is handing fuel to Tory enemies of one our most crucial national institutions that Labour members and voters rightly want us to protect.
"It also simply re-emphasises the reasons of both why and how I resigned. It is old politics of the highest order."
The Labour spokesman had said that “trust in the impartiality and independence of the BBC is essential,” adding: “The BBC's role is to report the news impartially, rather than seek to influence events or promote a particular political narrative.”
The Corporation's interview with the former shadow foreign minister electrified Westminster on Wednesday and won praise from journalists as a 'scoop'.
Doughty said he was quitting because of the leadership's briefing against fellow shadow foreign minister Pat McFadden, who was sacked for 'disloyalty' by Mr Corbyn this week.
But the BBC's handling of the story sparked a backlash from supporters of Jeremy Corbyn, who said the move was deliberately designed to inflict "maximum damage" on the Labour leader.
Journalists from publications across the political divide united to defend Laura Kuenssberg, the BBC's Political Editor who approached Doughty to ask if he would exclusively reveal his decision to step down from the frontbench on the 'Daily Politics' - minutes before Prime Minister's Questions.
The BBC had already responded to complaints in a statement issued late on Thursday night.
"The shadow cabinet reshuffle was a major story this week and many MPs from all camps had strong opinions which were fairly reflected across BBC output," it said in a message posted on Twitter.
"Stephen Doughty had already decided to resign and willingly chose to make his announcement on the programme."
On Stephen Doughty's resignation on Daily Politics: pic.twitter.com/9i0iR1sqKK— BBC News Press Team (@BBCNewsPR) January 7, 2016
Discontent among Corbyn allies in the Shadow Cabinet first emerged today when Jon Trickett, shadow communities secretary and a close ally of Corbyn, waded into the debate to accuse the BBC of deliberately deciding to announce news of Doughty's resignation just moments before PMQs.
If BBC deliberately contrived the timing of shad min resignation immediately before PMQ, giving advantage to PM, then it is a disgrace— Jon Trickett (@jon_trickett) January 8, 2016
And the unofficial Twitter account 'JeremyCorbyn4PM' also made clear it wanted supporters to complain to the BBC
Corbyn supporters had inundated the BBC on Twitter with allegations of presiding over a political "scandal", while one blog shared thousands of times on social media claimed Kuenssberg helped "actively assist disgruntled shadow cabinet members' attempt[s] to inflict maximum damage upon their party leader".
Much of the backlash centred on a blog, since deleted, by a producer of Daily Politics, which suggested the story was about 'making the news' and timed for a 'big political impact'.
The BBC on Thursday deleted a blog on its website penned by the output editor for 'Daily Politics', Andrew Alexander, detailing his version of events that led to Doughty's resignation.
"Although he himself would probably acknowledge he isn't a household name, we knew his resignation just before PMQs would be a dramatic moment with big political impact," Alexander wrote.
Doughty resigned in protest at the treatment of his fellow Labour MP and former shadow minister Pat McFadden, who was ousted from the Europe brief late on Tuesday night.
"When an individual like that has been singled out for a sacking for words that I completely agree with I think it's only the honourable thing for me to do tender my resignation," he said.
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