The BBC is tonight facing calls to end its relationship with a London based pro-Union lobbying group after it emerged the organisation is to hold a dinner that will promote the No campaign.
In an announcement tonight the CBI has confirmed Prime Minister David Cameron will attend an event in support of Better Together campaign.
The move has prompted the Electoral Commission to issue a statement confirming that the dinner will be viewed as an official event in support of the anti-independence campaign.
An Electoral Commission spokesperson said:
“We are of the view that the CBI’s dinner does constitute campaigning and as a result we have sought detailed assurances from them and their suppliers about the cost of this event, including with comparison to previous years. We have also considered evidence from other suppliers about similar events to inform our view.
“As a result of the information we’ve received, we’re content that the CBI will not be spending more than the £10,000 limit that would require them to formally register as a campaigner at the referendum. We will continue to monitor their activities to ensure that this remains the case and we will be obtaining from the CBI the final costs of the dinner after it has been held.”
The announcement is acutely embarrassing for the electoral watchdog after it controversially nullified a registration application from the CBI earlier this year. In April it emerged the CBI had applied to become an official supporter of the No campaign, but after an outcry its Chief Executive, John Cridland, then sought to have the application declared void claiming it had been made in error.
Mr Cridland claimed the organisation was simply voicing business concerns and had no intention of entering the referendum campaign as an official supporter of No.
Tonight’s confirmation that the Electoral Commission has deemed the planned dinner an official No campaign event is uncomfortable for the BBC. In April, shortly after the initial controversy over the CBI’s now nullified registration, it emerged that the BBC had been secretly paying the CBI tens of thousands of pounds each year in fees.
Despite an outcry over the use of licence payer’s cash, including from the national Union of Journalists, the corporation refused to resign. The broadcaster instead announced a plan to suspend its membership on May 30th, the beginning of the referendum campaign period, until the referendum was over.
However the suspension did not happen after the Electoral Commission declared the CBI’s registration void.
In a statement in May, the BBC said: “As the CBI is no longer registered with the Electoral Commission as part of the Scottish Referendum Act, the BBC believes that it is no longer necessary to suspend its membership.”
The decision to declare the CBI dinner an official campaign event on behalf of Better Together, means there are bound to be a repeat of calls for the BBC to end its relationship with the group.
Newsnet Scotland has contacted the BBC press office and the corporation’s referendum chief John Mullin asking for a response to the news and whether the BBC will end its relationship with the CBI. As yet we have received no response.
Newsnet Scotland has pursued the CBI story and has uncovered a string of inconsistencies and irregularities. Below are some of our articles on the issue: