The leaders of the Scottish National Party and Plaid Cymru, Alex Salmond MP MSP and Ieuan Wyn Jones AM have taken the unusual step of writing to the heads of the international press bureaux to highlight how the impartiality of the British Broadcasting Company is compromised by the current proposals for the leaders debate which cut out three of the four countries which make up the UK and two parties of government.
They have also written a joint letter to BBC Director General Mark Thompson stating that the BBCs insistence in denying fair competition of ideas could endanger the conduct of a free election.
Writing to the international press the two leaders state:
“The BBC’s proposal effectively disenfranchises the people of Scotland and Wales. The format as currently devised makes no allowances for the reality of the devolution settlement which sees the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly – and indeed the Northern Irish Assembly – responsible for a number of key policy areas including health and education. We believe this is a retrograde step by the BBC which reflects an overly centralised, metropolitan and outdated attitude and which fails to meet the needs of three of the constituent nations of the United Kingdom.
“As yet, no satisfactory measures have been put in place to ensure that balanced coverage, reflecting the different political make-up of the United Kingdom.
“Around the world, there are excellent examples of state broadcasters who do manage to achieve balance in far more complex political situations Canadas CBC being a notable example. It is hugely disappointing the BBC lacks the ambition to even try.
“It is extremely sad that after almost 90 years of being a world respected independent broadcaster, the BBC has allowed itself to be politically compromised in this fashion. It is only right that the wider international audience is made aware of the extent to which the BBC is failing to represent the people of Scotland and Wales in this way.
In the letter to BBC Director General, the leaders write:
You will be aware that your own guidelines as well as OFCOMs code of practice does not entitle your organisation to have unfettered discretion in how you comply with your duty to impartiality during a UK General Election. Your correspondence with our parties does however lead us to believe that the discretion you have exercised to date in relation to your planned coverage of the 2010 UK General Election is in breach of your obligations with respect to due impartiality.
A healthy democracy requires a fair competition between the alternative policy positions being offered at election time. For politics to be about healthy debate, the winning of hearts and minds, rather than about prior tribal political affiliation, then parties in reasonable competition must be given similar opportunity to present their policy platform to the electorate.
The medium of television has a unique ability at election time to bring the competition of ideas, which is at the heart of the democratic system,into the living room of every voter in the country.
Without a properly informed electorate, the conditions for free election are not possible.
Commenting, Mr Jones said:
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.
Mr Salmond added:
“It is very sad that after almost 90 years of being a world respected independent broadcaster held in the highest regard, the BBC has allowed itself to become politically compromised setting up these debates.
The BBCs proposal effectively disenfranchises the people of Scotland, Wales and indeed, Northern Ireland and cuts out two governing parties. The debates as they currently stand reflect an overly centralised, metropolitan attitude which fails to meet the needs of three of the constituent nations of the UK.”
Contact SNP Press on 07595709693 / Plaid Cymru Press on 07738182864