Farage TV move infuriates parties

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By a Newsnet Reporter

UK broadcasting laws on election coverage are in chaos following a decision to include UKIP leader Nigel Farage within a series of planned “leadership debates” involving BBC, ITV, Sky and Channel 4 before next year’s UK General Election.

The broadcasters’ apparent decision to include the leader of a party with just one MP has already attracted widespread criticism outside Westminster, as larger parties in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland protest the move.

 

By a Newsnet Reporter

UK broadcasting laws on election coverage are in chaos following a decision to include UKIP leader Nigel Farage within a series of planned “leadership debates” involving BBC, ITV, Sky and Channel 4 before next year’s UK General Election.

The broadcasters’ apparent decision to include the leader of a party with just one MP has already attracted widespread criticism outside Westminster, as larger parties in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland protest the move.

It seems inevitable that court action, and formal complaints to the regulator Ofcom and the BBC Trust, will follow news of the decision.

The four broadcasters intend to share three debates next year.

One will be between Tory David Cameron and Labour leader Ed Miliband. A second debate will feature those two, plus the Liberal Democrat Nick Clegg. A third debate will feature those three, plus Farage.

Already criticism has been voiced by the English Green Party, Scottish National Party and Plaid Cymru. A further protest may be made by at least one of the Northern Ireland parties.

The complaint will concern two obvious points: firstly, that the other parties (who also have elected Members of Parliament in Westminster) are being treated unfairly and secondly that network TV coverage will make it appear that Farage has a status of a larger party leader.

There is already a widespread concern that disproportionately heavy coverage of Farage and UKIP helped boost the party in the European elections earlier this year.

Clegg’s inclusion in TV debates in 2010 undoubtedly boosted the profile of his party in that year’s election, and helped thrust the hitherto little-known MP into Government as part of the Con-Lib coalition.

UKIP gained its first MP only last week, after a ex-Tory defector stood again in his own constituency and retained the seat for his new party.

The planned all-male TV debates will enjoy massive audiences and huge promption by the TV channels as well as the UK national press. This in itself reinforces the image of “UK Politics” being a three-party (and now four-party) affair, ignoring the realities of devolution and issue politics.

Angus Robertson, the SNP’s Westminster leader, described the broadcasters’ plan as “utterly unacceptable to any democrat”.

Similar ciriticisms have been made by English Green Party leader Natalie Bennett and Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood, who said that the TV companies had shown themselves to be out of touch, “clinging to the notion that there is no alternative to the tired Westminster elite”.

The proposed debates – which would take place over three weeks directly before the May 7 election – are expected to attract scrutiny from Ofcom and the Electoral Reform Society.