The BBC faces allegations of pursuing an “incredibly zealous” campaign in favour of assisted suicide from a coalition led by Lord Carlile, the Government’s anti-terror adviser.
The Care Not Killing Alliance has accused the BBC of providing “biased” coverage on the issue, after it broadcast Sir Terry Pratchett’s lecture encouraging “euthanasia tribunals”.
Lord Carlile, chairman of the Alliance, said the BBC was breaking impartiality rules and adopting a “campaigning stance” to increase pressure on the Government to legalise assisted suicide.
The Peer, who is the independent reviewer of Government anti-terrorist legislation, is the most senior establishment figure to call into question the corporation’s reporting of assisted suicide.
In a letter to Sir Michael Lyons, the chairman of the BBC Trust, Lord Carlile has demanded a meeting with BBC bosses to discuss its unbalanced reporting.
The Liberal Democrat Peer also raised questions over the corporation’s failure to inform the police after a BBC presenter, Ray Gosling, claimed on TV to have killed his terminally ill gay lover.
The Daily Mail also branded the BBC biased in an editorial in today’s paper, saying: “Indeed, mercy killing has now joined the BBC’s growing portfolio of fashionable pet causes, from green taxes to gay adoption, from multiculturalism to the blatant censorship of any discussion of immigration.
“Lib Dem Lord Carlile, of the Care Not Killing Alliance, is right to accuse the corporation of being zealously one-sided on an issue that is far too important for partisan propaganda.”
A spokesman for the BBC Trust said Sir Michael had not yet received Lord Carlile’s letter and would respond when it arrived.
A BBC News spokesman said: “There is no campaign. What there is, however, is the BBC’s duty to report topical issues in the public domain. Of course the BBC takes its responsibilities very seriously.
“That’s why we have approached this issue in a careful, balanced, and impartial way. We understand people hold very strong views, but equally, it is a legitimate topic for journalism and current affairs – it is important to report on difficult issues and not shy away from them.
“And it has never been the case that reporting on any topic, no matter how difficult, is in any way an endorsement of a viewpoint.”
Lord Carlile’s complaints come just weeks after a cross-party group of MPs accused the BBC of showing “persistent bias” in favour of euthanasia.
Over 20 MPs have so far signed an Early Day Motion which accuses the BBC of conducting a “multi-million pound campaign” to promote euthanasia.
The criticism followed the decision by the BBC to broadcast two programmes on the same night which both supported assisted suicide.
The MPs say bias is shown in the BBC’s “thinly-disguised plays and soap operas” as well as its news coverage.
They say these promote the use of euthanasia and misrepresent pro-life activists in the UK as “people of violence”.
The motion says the BBC has disregarded the fact that “every disability rights group in the UK is opposed to the legalisation of assisted suicide and euthanasia”.
On 1 February the BBC broadcast a public lecture in which author Sir Terry Pratchett called for assisted suicide tribunals to decide on cases of people who want to die.
On the same evening a Panorama programme featured a poll which appeared to show a swing in favour of weakening assisted suicide laws.
Last week the mother of a severely disabled man warned her son would appear “expendable” if the law on assisted suicide changed.
Elisabeth Shepherd also warned that disabled people, like her son James, could feel pressurised into committing suicide if the law on assisted suicide was relaxed.
Earlier this month a disability leader warned that vulnerable individuals need support and encouragement instead of help to commit suicide.
Phil Friend, Chairman of the Royal Association for Disability Rights, cautioned that any change in the law would “create a class of people from whom legal protection can be taken away”.