‘Why do they even have a comms team’: LBC presenter criticises PHE over coronavirus response

LBC Radio presenter Iain Dale has criticised Public Health England’s coronavirus media relations strategy, accusing it of having a narrow focus, and has threatened to call the organisation out each day until it agrees to put someone on his programme.

LBC presenter Iain Dale has criticised Public Health England for failing to appear on his programme
LBC presenter Iain Dale has criticised Public Health England for failing to appear on his programme

In a blog post yesterday, Dale opined that PHE was not fulfilling its stated remit – to protect and improve the nation’s health – because it was pursuing a narrow media strategy with its experts over coronavirus.

He wrote: “The trouble is they appear to think that the only programme people listen to on the radio is the Today programme.”

Dale, who presents a weekday ‘Newshour’ show, said his producers had been trying to get someone from PHE to appear on his programme every day for a month, but had been told nobody was available.

He said: “And yet I constantly hear their spokesman [PHE medical director Professor] Paul Cosford on Radio 4.”

Dale claimed that every attempt to get PHE to appear on his programme had taken a similar path: LBC producers asked PHE to put someone up on Newshour to discuss the latest on coronavirus and what precautions people would take and the health body said it would get back to them, but later said nobody was available.

Beats me why they even have a communications department!

Iain Dale, LBC Radio presenter

Dale said that, while LBC did not have the right to demand PHE appears on his show, “surely any communications plan must include PHE representatives fanning across the media and appearing wherever they're asked to in a situation like this. They should not only be appearing on Radio 4, but on other BBC stations, LBC and local stations too, getting the message out there.”

He accused PHE of failing to meet the public’s demand for information on the COVID-19 coronavirus and not taking a golden opportunity for PR.

He said: “I find it inexplicable that they will happily shell out hundreds of thousands of pounds in newspaper advertising, yet seem reluctant to get free air time to explain what's going on and what precautions people should take.”

The presenter, who is well connected in senior government circles, said he had texted health secretary Matt Hancock in frustration at PHE’s failure to appear on his or other LBC programmes, ending his complaint with: “Beats me why they even have a communications department!”

Dale then threatened to publicly call out PHE on his programme each day until a representative appeared on the show.

He said: “My studio door remains open to them, but if they don't appear, each day in our Newshour I will take them to task for it. And they'll have only themselves to blame.”

Public Health England was contacted but had not responded at the time of publication.

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