BBC Statement after meeting with the DUP over proposed televised debates…

The DUP requested a meeting with the Director-General of the BBC to raise its concerns about not being included in the leaders’ TV debates to be broadcast across the UK and about wider coverage ahead of the General Election.

The DUP has also raised its concerns with the BBC Trust and, separately, instructed lawyers to prepare to take legal action against the BBC.

The BBC, alongside ITV, Channel 4 and Sky News, has announced plans to host a series of television debates in the run-up to the General Election. These include a head-to-head debate between the leaders of the Conservative and Labour parties, as well as two debates additionally involving the leaders of the Liberal Democrats, UKIP, the Greens, the SNP and Plaid Cymru.

In Northern Ireland, the BBC will host a separate primetime TV debate to ensure fair and impartial treatment of all the main Northern Ireland parties: the DUP, Sinn Fein, the SDLP, the UUP and the Alliance.

James Harding, BBC Director of News, went to Belfast on behalf of the Director-General to hear directly from the leader of the DUP about the party’s concerns. The position of the broadcasters on the TV debates remains unchanged.

James Harding said: “This meeting provided an important and useful opportunity for us to hear about the DUP’s concerns. The BBC is required to cover the upcoming election impartially and independent of any political pressure. Our job is to serve the public, ensuring that all voters get full and fair coverage of the choice at the General Election.”

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  • Dan

    The ridiculous proposals should be challenged in court.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    the BBC is being wilfully thick over this. No explanation given as to why NI parties are treated differently from SNP and Plaid. Real reason is they want to limit numbers, we’re the lowest priority region and they thought could get away with it.

    Reason put out by Nick Robinson et al is: we’re different from Wales and Scotland because the national parties don’t have candidates here. But:
    (1) so what? MPs elected in NI will sit in Westminster and vote on national issues that affect all viewers; and, what’s more, this time around may well be a key part of post-election coalition-forming and inter-party agreements; and
    (2) the Conservatives, Greens and UKIP *are* standing in NI in any case (and Labour should).

    They cocked up, they’ve been called on it. This kind of digging in of the heels against Northern Ireland is unbecoming of the national broadcaster.

  • Ernekid

    Get over yourselves guys. The BBC and people in Britain don’t give a damn about Northern Ireland and its parties. If a meteor hit the earth and totally obliterated the six counties of Northern Ireland, I doubt It’d make the headlines in Britain.

    We are the embarrassing relative, Most of the time the rest of the UK like to pretend we don’t exist.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    it was ‘judicial review’ written all over it – I think they’ll fall foul of the “taking irrelevant considerations into account” part. It will come down, I suppose, to what the purpose of the tv debates is supposed to be:
    – “to see the likely candidates for PM battling it out”? Then no Plaid etc
    – “to include the main parties people might vote for”? Then either no Plaid etc or a test of percentage of the vote in polls and/or current MP numbers – again, no rationale for including Wales and excluding NI parties
    – “to let people see a spread of views represented”? Fine but again there needs to be a rationale for where the line is drawn. Still not working here.
    – the one the BBC claims – and I’m finding this hard to work out to be honest as it’s so obscure – “to let people see a debate between parties that are either national parties or compete with national parties”. But as Ian Paisley Jr pointed out, he has UKIP and a Conservative candidate in his constituency …

    They have nothing.

    If they get away with it, I’ll be furious with Labour, because their not standing in NI will effectively have won supremacy for Plaid Cymru over NI parties in the national tv debates. We take a double hit.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    we know, but it’s a fairness thing.

  • Ulick

    Life at the edge of the union lads, suck it up.

  • Dan

    I don’t want anyone in the debates except Cameron, Miliband and Farage.
    The smaller parties shouldn’t be there at all as far as I’m concerned, but when some regional parties are in, so should the rest.

  • Gingray

    MainlandUlsterman
    You are of course 100% right on this – its not fair play from the British media. Hardly a surprise tho, very few people outside the unionist community in N. Ireland really view this place as being equal within the UK. For most we are just Irish, or an oddity like the Isle of Mann/Channel islands.
    And honestly, as an irish republican its quite nice to see, there is something deeply satisfying about how obviously N. Irelands parties being treated as second class by our masters in London. Irrelevant fish in the big pond.
    Gingray

  • Chris

    One could argue that UKIP are a smaller regional party, considering they only have 2 MPs (seats they didn’t technically win). If you’re going to have UKIP, you definitely need to have the LibDems, despite their serious unpopularity.
    In the end, when it comes to who is forming the next government only the Con/Lab debate truly matters.

  • Reader

    I suppose it’s the same the other way round, though we don’t have TDs at all, and we do have MPs (unlike the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands)

  • Gingray

    Not too sure it is – most of the parties in the south pay lip service to N. Ireland with something in their manifesto, but they dont really engage with Northern parties. SDLP attend the Labour conference (as they do in GB), and SF are an all ireland party, as are the greens, but thats about it.

    With elections at different times it would nearly be pointless having a debate with parties not contesting the election however/

  • Joe_Hoggs

    We’re an oddity here in Northern Ireland, all of us Unionist know deep down that Great Britian doesn’t want us, equally all Republicans know that the ROI also doesn’t want us. Our solution is to fight it out amongst ourselves about what neighbour hates us least and will treat us best.

  • Dan

    They did win them…technically and any other way you might care to disparage their honourable victory.
    Yes, you can argue the toss for Clegg to be in the debate too,
    The four of them would be fine…..or the three v Farage as there’s precious little to choose between LibLabCon these days,

  • Max

    Yet !

  • Joe_Hoggs

    On another note what is the point of these debates? Clegg was the winner of the debates last time around but when it cam to the elections the Liberal Democrats received a lower number of seats that they did during their previous election.

  • Pete

    Whilst I think as a matter of fairness, the DUP should have been included, I’m not sure why they’re bothering to go through with this. I’m sure the BBC has a better legal team than the DUP, and I don’t think their legal challenge has any chance of success.

  • Surveyor

    Fine, but there’s not much point paying a licence fee anymore if we don’t exist is there?

  • Ulick

    You may want it Dan but saying as no one in the north can vote for Cameron, Miliband and Farage there’s little point in the BBC even showing such an event.

  • D99

    Yes, as with Cameron, the DUP’s inclusion in the debates can only do them harm for all sorts of reasons. But their exclusion just gives Cameron another excuse not to take part and a reason for the debates to be cancelled or rendered further unmanageable and chaotic.

    The DUP probably realise this, but it would be embarrassing for them to appear to back down now, in the face of a (perceived or real) undemocratic snub from the broadcasters.

  • Dan

    Well, you can’t vote for Miliband, but your facts are incorrect on the other two.

  • babyface finlayson

    I don’t see the problem really.
    Yes NI MPs will vote on national issues but no-one who watches them in a national debate could decide to vote in any way to stop them.Except for people here and we will see them debate against all the parties opposing them here.
    Plaid will be opposed by the other main parties so it is reasonable (although the Beeb could have got away with excluding them maybe) for them to be included.

  • dodrade99

    I’m not convinced the debtes will go ahead anyway, but might they get round it simply by blocking the debates from being broadcast in Northern Ireland?

  • MainlandUlsterman

    eh? So NI wouldn’t get to see the national debates at all – what would that solve?

  • MainlandUlsterman

    I think Cameron is using them as a way of getting out of the debates. Cameron has most to lose. Miliband can only gain from people seeing he’s not the total numpty the right wing media have portrayed him as.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    I know people always hark on about this as if it matters, but it’s irrelevant really – and a misconceived question – whether “Great Britain” “wants us”. Great Britain isn’t a meaningful political unit – it’s the UK at the national level, of which NI is a part with equal status to any other part; or if breaking it down further, it’s the 4 intra-UK countries (England, Scotland, Wales). But individual countries within the UK don’t and shouldn’t have a say over the choice on sovereignty of the people of other countries within the UK.

  • dodrade99

    It would prevent those national parties (Tories, Greens, UKIP) which stand in Northern Ireland having an advantage over the local parties without having to add more parties to the debate.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    oh I see … I don’t think excluding voters from national debates can really be the way forward though, surely.