BBC agree to meet Plaid and SNP on the election debates – very kind.

The Western Mail reports the latest on the election debates.
From Ieuan Wyn:
“Unless broadcasts are held in a fair, impartial and accurate way, the legitimacy and integrity of the general election results will be called into question. That cannot be an acceptable state of affairs for anyone. The action the BBC has taken in putting together these plans is nothing short of a betrayal of the principles upon which the editorial integrity of the BBC is built.”
The Scotsman with its usual impartiality headlines: “Nationalists scale down demands over TV debates”….
And here’s the BBC report. I like:
“Mr Jones and Mr Salmond have also written to international press bureaux heads accusing the BBC of bias.”
I await the coverage in Zimbabwe and Florida with interest.
Update – a thoughtful and balanced post from Betsan.
Update2 – and Mick guides me to your friend in the North’s take.

  • Brian Walker

    Well Dewi, the Nats are playing a blinder and the broadcasters seem as leaden footed as usual – surprisingly, more than a decade into devolution. Maybe they anticipated deadlock and have decided to tough it out, I have no inside knowledge, but it doesn’t look like it. It’s turning into a shambles and a tactical victory for the Nats in a battle the broadcasters don’t want to fight. The Nats’ compromise of limited participation during the debates sounds so reasonable. It puts all parties eligible for a place in devolved (though not UK national) government in S and W on an equal footing. But it turns the programme into a dog’s dinner and reduces the time for UK national and English issues for the 80+% of the UK in our asymmetrical kingdom. This is a debate focusing on who would be the best UK leader remember. The SNP and Plaid are not in the running, but it takes place in a parliamentary not a presidential system which complicates the arrangements even before devolution is taken on board.

    The broadcasters should have sorted out and announced the UK national and devolved debates together. It seems they had not consulted the Nats simultaneously with the UK parties. That was bad mistake even if the result had been deadlock. They should then have argued it out in public if neccesary and well before this point. It puts them on the back foot when they say they’re still working out the local versions. It implies an uncertainty that Alex in particular sniffs a mile off. Had they announced the full plan,the public would have been able to judge on the basis of the complete proposition. Separate discussions after the Uk debates and separate leaders deabtes in S,W (and NI who are not in this fight) still seems reasonable. The problem is people like you want to exploit the inevitable imperfections. The BBC, unfairly but astutely singled out for particular ire, wants to please all of the people all of the time and the Nats are shrewdly exploiting that. It’s a real PR mess which should have been anticipated.

  • Dewi

    “This is a debate focusing on who would be the best UK leader remember.”

    That’s your and the broadcasters’ narrative Brian. Mine would be “these are debates persuading you on who to vote for in your constituency” As you say: “it takes place in a parliamentary not a presidential system”.

    And: “even before devolution is taken on board”
    IMHO devolution is very little to to do with it.

    “The problem is people like you want to exploit the inevitable imperfections.”

    I wouldn’t describe it as an “imperfection”. I’d describe it as a scandal.

    Why not three debates in each of the constituent countries of Britain broadcast simultaneously? Is that much too simple?

  • Brian Walker

    Dewi, the broadcasters own the airtime within the law, not the parties. It’s not just a “narrative.” These are leaders’ debates because voters strongly focus on the leader as well as the party, with constituency issues coming well behind. This is a judgement the broadcasters are entitled to make. They will be supplemented by Scottish national and Welsh national debates involing party leaders. They do not replace a welter of other coverage. Election coverage will be more extensive than ever. While the broadcasters have accepted constraints in order to get agreement,they still want to stage the best possible debates. It would be a crying shame if the debates as cast are overloaded with people who cannot become UK PM. Nat leaders are not UK leaders, there is a difference.

    Your suggestion implies limiting the number of debates to three only on the whole UK and devolved agendas for England Scotland and Wales. That reduces the scale of the whole proposition and deprives the electorate of the fullest possible exploration of the issues. And you would do that just so see the Nat leaders sitting alongside Brown, Cameron and Clegg. That’s a very narrow political point.

    Instead, the BBC is proposing a total of seven debates including NI – and more. A pattern of “post match commentaries” involving the devolved parties after the main debates and separate full local debates is easily the best compromise.

  • Dewi

    “This is a judgement the broadcasters are entitled to make”

    No it isn’t – the Post Office don’t decide whose leaflets to deliver free of charge.

    “And you would do that just so see the Nat leaders sitting alongside Brown, Cameron and Clegg. That’s a very narrow political point.”

    It is a narrow political point agreed. The narrow point made is that the Lib Dems (for God’s sake) will get four time as much well-publicised prime air time in Wales than Plaid Cymru. Narrow but surely profound.

    “A pattern of “post match commentaries” involving the devolved parties after the main debates and separate full local debates is easily the best compromise.”

    I’m interested in fairness not compromise and exasperated that the 78 point agreement just didn’t even think of this: (apart of course the unwritten Molotov-Ribbentrop clause excluding Plaid and the SNP)

  • DougtheDug

    What the broadcasters are trying to do is to apply the English electoral impartiality rules to the entire UK. In England there are three parties defined as major parties by OFCOM which is why the no-hoper Nick Clegg has had to be included on an English, “Prime Ministerial”, debate.

    In Scotland OFCOM defines the SNP as the fourth major party in Scotland and PC as the fourth major party in Wales. The OFCOM defined major parties in NI are the UUP, DUP, SDLP and Sinn Féinn.

    Unless all the parties defined as major parties in their respective home nations get equal representation and airtime in that home nation on TV then the broadcasters are breaking the Communications Act 2003.

    And devolution does come into it, especially for Scots. The first debate is going to be mainly on English Domestic policy which not only has no relevance to Scotland, apart from its impact on Barnett funding, but will mislead voters in Scotland into thinking the promises on English policy will apply to them.

    I put a long comment on this topic on a post by Mike Small on the Bellacaledonia blog.

    http://bellacaledonia.wordpress.com/2010/03/04/media-democracy/#comment-610

  • Dewi

    “And devolution does come into it, especially for Scots.”

    I meant, Doug, that I see no reason why the existance of devolved Parliaments should be an excuse for profound unfairness.

  • Prionsa Eoghann

    >>..the Nats are playing a blinder and the broadcasters seem as leaden footed as usual..< >This is a debate focusing on who would be the best UK leader remember< >The SNP and Plaid are not in the running..< >It seems they had not consulted the Nats simultaneously with the UK parties. That was bad mistake even if the result had been deadlock.< >The problem is people like you want to exploit the inevitable imperfections.< >The BBC, unfairly but astutely singled out for particular ire, wants to please all of the people all of the time and the Nats are shrewdly exploiting that.< >..the broadcasters own the airtime within the law, not the parties.< >What the broadcasters are trying to do is to apply the English electoral impartiality rules to the entire UK. In England there are three parties defined as major parties by OFCOM which is why the no-hoper Nick Clegg has had to be included on an English, “Prime Ministerial”, debate.<

  • DougtheDug

    Dewi:

    I take your point, but I don’t think the broadcasters are using devolution as an excuse for unfairness as they seem to have totally ignored it.

    In fact they seem to be clueless about anything north of watford.

    In the Press Release put out by the BBC, http://www.bbc.co.uk/pressoffice/pressreleases/stories/2010/03_march/02/debates2.shtml, they talk about holding, “separate party leader election debates in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland” where I think they are referring to Alex Salmond debating with the the Conservative, Labour and the Lib-Dem second string regional managers for the Scottish “regional” debate..

    Perhaps someone should point out to the BBC that fictional parties such as the Scottish Labour party, the Scottish Lib-Dems and the Scottish Conservatives don’t actually exist and the four major OFCOM defined party leaders in Scotland are Cameron, Brown, Clegg and Salmond.

  • Dewi

    Technically and pedantically DougtheDug The Scottish and Welsh Lib Dems do exist. The UK Lib Dems are a confederation I believe….but your point is totally valid.

  • DougtheDug

    Dewi:

    Technically and pedantically the Scottish and Welsh Lib-Dems don’t exist.

    Search in the Great Britain, http://registers.electoralcommission.org.uk/regulatory-issues/regpoliticalparties.cfm, register of political parties and you won’t find them

    Or search in the Northern Ireland, http://registers.electoralcommission.org.uk/regulatory-issues/regpoliticalparties.cfm?frmGB=0, register of political parties and you won’t find them either.

    Calling yourself a party when you’re just a regional branch doesn’t count.

  • Dewi

    Interesting Doug – at the risk of going off topic that’s worth a poke…I’ll get back to you tonight.