26 January 2010

More on the Telly Box

Thanks to Scott tweeting a link and suggesting that the contents were right up my alley (he is quite correct), I've clocked the draft BBC Editorial Guidance for the upcoming General Election.

Here's something interesting on Page 5:

In Scotland and Wales, the SNP and Plaid Cymru respectively gained substantial electoral support at the last General Election. UK-wide programmes must ensure that, on issues where they have distinctive policies, the SNP and Plaid are given appropriate levels of coverage in items to which the GB-wide parties contribute. In addition, UK-wide programmes should use SNP and Plaid spokespeople on other major election news stories, where appropriate.

Now, this is interesting: is the draft guidance arguing in favour of an SNP (and Plaid) presence in the Leaders' Debate?

UK-wide programmes must ensure that, on issues where they have distinctive policies, the SNP and Plaid are given appropriate levels of coverage in items to which the GB-wide parties contribute.

Here's the key: the word 'appropriate'. Is it 'appropriate' not to have a contribution from either the SNP or Plaid in such a debate? It seems not. Is it 'appropriate' to have an extra programme on the News Channel and BBC Scotland (and, of course, Wales) for the SNP and Plaid Leaders. Again, that's effectively the same as not having them in the UK-wide programme. It goes on:

In addition, UK-wide programmes should use SNP and Plaid spokespeople on other major election news stories, where appropriate.

So here's how I read it. The Debate will be UK-wide. The Debate will, in and of itself, be a major election news story. The SNP and Plaid do have distinctive policies on a number of issues that may, conceivably, be raised at that debate - unless the BBC stick solely to issues handled by both the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly. Accordingly, it is entirely appropriate to have a place for one or both of the SNP and Plaid in that debate.

And, those lamenting that Alex Salmond isn't going to be a candidate in the General Election should note that it invites 'spokespeople' - not necessarily candidates! And who better to act as a spokesperson than the Party Leader?

Further, those concerned that inviting the SNP and Plaid means inviting the Greens, UKIP, the BNP, Respect and the entire Northern Irish political spectrum should take a look at the following. Firstly, also on Page 5:

In Great Britain, in the context of a General Election, no party other than those mentioned above [Labour, the Tories, LibDems, SNP and Plaid] has demonstrated that it has substantial electoral support.

Now, the Greens, UKIP and BNP may all have cause to dispute this, and the BBC does confer upon them a sort of "Best of the Rest" status, but the Corporation's attitudes are clear: on UK-wide issues where they have something to say, the SNP and Plaid are to be given a voice.

Similarly, this comes on Page 7:

UK-wide programmes which report on the election as it affects Northern Ireland should give similar levels of coverage to the four largest parties: the Democratic Unionists, Sinn Fein, the Ulster Unionist Party (standing as UCUNF with the Conservatives) and the SDLP. If British Conservative spokespeople are used to discuss issues directly relating to Northern Ireland, outlets should normally also ensure that the other three larger Northern Ireland parties (ie DUP, Sinn Fein and SDLP) are included.

Accordingly, if the Debate steers clear of NI-specific issues (or, one suspects, if the UCUNF pact breaks down), there's no need to invite the respective Leaders as they too are kept in a separate bracket to the others.

In short:

1. The BBC guidelines make it hard to justify the absence of the SNP and Plaid on the BBC Debate.

2. The BBC guidelines do not rule out the presence of Alex Salmond as the SNP's representative.

3. The BBC guidelines show that inviting the SNP and Plaid does not force them to push the number of participants into double figures.

Basically, this paper highlights a need for the two parties to be involved and sweeps the rug from under the key points of contention that may prevent that from happening.

However, another key word in all of this is 'draft'. It's possible that this thing could be re-drafted, particularly with a view to detailing the BBC's approach to the Debate. But if these are the guidelines adopted, then the BBC will in effect be in breach of its own rules if the participants in its Leaders' Debate are restricted to Messrs Brown, Cameron and Clegg.


Strathturret said...

Lord Mandleson will be used as a Labour spokesman and he is not standing for parliament in a GE. So Alex Salmond must be an elligible SNP spokeman.

DougtheDug said...

The BBC makes up its own rules but they have to be compliant with the Communications Act 2003.

ITV, Channel 4 and Sky fall under OFCOM rules.

At present in the UK major parties are the Conservative Party, the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats. In addition, major parties in Scotland and Wales respectively are the Scottish National Party and Plaid Cymru.

Which means the SNP have the same rights as the English big three in Scotland and any exclusion from a debate broadcast in Scotland involving the other three could be successfully challenged in court.

There's a Parliamentary Standard Note which lays out the rules for Party Election Broadcasts and nowhere does it say the spokesperson on the broadcast has to be standing in an election.
This debate is just a multi-party election broadcast.

There may be a lot of complaints from the English Greens and UKIP about being excluded from these debates but what a lot of people fail to understand is that the SNP will not be presenting a case for inclusion in a UK debate to any court but a case to be included in any debate broadcast in Scotland.

Under the current BBC guidelines the BBC have to recognise the, "...the different political structures in the four nations of the United Kingdom...Programmes shown across the UK should also take this into account." and this is made more explicit in the draft guidelines.

It's almost as if the broacasters have a blind spot. They regard the leaders debate as a "British" debate even though it will cover many areas of government in Scotland which fall under the Scottish Parliament and they think the SNP and PC will be satisfied with the addition of regional overlays to cover the differences from "British" policy in the regions. They just can't understand the difference between Britain and England.

The idea of broadcasting to separate the nations of England, Wales, Scotland and NI just passes them by.

Anonymous said...