Thursday, 29 October 2009

BBC Playing With Politics

Away from the canvassing, the shaking hands and the snogging of babies by wannabe politicians in Glasgow North East, there's an important battle going on that affects the basic democratic nature of this country. Last week, the BBC held a hustings on a radio show. A hustings is always understood to be an event where all the candidates have a chance to address an audience and answer questions. Well, the BBC version is different because the BBC pick & choose which candidates they will allow on the stand. Whereas the Electoral Commission treats every candidate equally, the BBC feel they are above such equanimity.

Back at the Euro Elections, the BBC made an important policy decision. They decided to award airtime to political parties on the basis of past electoral performance. Because of this, the BNP were given the same airtime as the Greens. UKIP were given the airtime befitting a party that did well at the Euros last time round, totally ignoring the fact that their vote had collapsed in the interim. We saw the result. UKIP went from around 6% in the polls to a resounding success at the ballot box and the BNP gained their first seats.

It's as if the BBC don't understand the effect of the media.

They meddled in politics again last week with a botched hatchet job at Question Time. Whilst I personally agree that the BNP had earned the right at the ballot box (with BBC assistance) to appear on QT, they hadn't earned the right to have the show turned into a soapbox for their policies. And the result? The BNP bounced to 22% in one opinion poll.

Back with the John Smeaton campaign in Glasgow, the BBC continue to play favourites. At their "hustings", they invited Labour, SNP, Conservative & Lib Dem candidates. When Jury Team questioned the omission of our candidate, we were told "Only the top parties were invited". By what measure do they arrive at "top"? John Smeaton has been a comfortable third in the polls since his hat was thrown in the ring. The BBC say they base such decisions on "Past Electoral Performance". Well, because this was the Speaker's seat and convention says parties don't contest against the Speaker, it's 12 years since the Conservatives or the Lib Dems had a candidate here. And when they did contest it over a decade ago, they were utterly trounced.

If we were allocating airtime according to the last electoral test, the Euros, the BNP with the same number of MEPs as the SNP would have to be given equal airtime. Indeed, if only four candidates were to appear on the BBC on the basis of past performance, last week's Brian Taylor "Big" Debate would have featured Labour, Conservatives, Lib Dems and the Greens.

The truth is, all this chicanery shouldn't be happening. It isn't for the BBC to pick & choose who the public gets to hear, it's the Electoral Commission. Chatting with the Returning Officer, I remarked how his office were scrupulously fair in ensuring that every candidate gets exactly the same treatment. Be it an Independent or the ruling Party, every candidate is equal in the eyes of the law.

We've seen how the BBC can throw elections and lead the public by the nose. The BNP & UKIP owe much of their success to the BBC. This is something that Jury Team is arguing vehemently against with the BBC and it's an argument we will pursue doggedly for the sake of this country.

Jury Team is about better governance. We cannot hope to succeed whilst the State Broadcaster is allowed to meddle in politics and influence elections.

5 comments:

  1. Yes, I've been wondering about this, and your analysis is very interesting and, indeed, compelling.

    Of course, Craig Murray made much the same point about the Norwich by-election.

    And presumably Smeato won't be getting a shot on Newsnicht either?

    You'd think the BBC would be able to come up with a methodology a bit less crude than it's using.

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  2. I agree Alan, but if you apply that principle fully they'll need a much longer desk on Question Time. Have you looked at the list of registered political parties on the Electoral Commission website? There are hundreds of them.

    And imagine what might happen if the Official Monster Raving Loonies were on Question Time...

    Having said that, as Jury Team were awarded a party political broadcast for the Euro elections, I don't see why the BBC should refuse to invite the party onto these debates.

    That should be the criteria really, qualifying for a party political broadcast via number of candidates fielded...

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  3. Now Alan, here's how once upon a time, I at least irritated a large English council and their housing department.

    Owing to special circumstances I needed a house for about a year and I knew my legal entitlement but this council wouldn't wear it.

    So, I dressed in my Sunday best, packed a lovely picnic basket full of my favourite goodies, plus china and linen cloth and set off for said offices at opening time.

    After saying who I was and what I wanted I was asked to sit and wait for someone to attend to me. The wait went on until lunchtime without one word from the reception area about progress.

    So, I laid out my lovely picnic on one of their filthy tables (plus a small vase of flowers of course) and enjoyed my lunch. Half way through I was approached by a bouncer who said 'You can't do that'. Why not I asked and he had no reply.

    Not many minutes passed and another approached saying much the same. By now I realised my actions were causing them the due embarrassment they deserved, particularly when another member of the public said he thought it was a wonderful idea and he'd photo the local paper as soon as he got home.

    Sadly, in some ways, I never had my photo in the paper, because the official I wanted to see appeared from the bullet proof door waving a key.

    At all times I kept dignified and limited my answers to anyone. I didn't enjoy my lunch too much because I don't 'do' lunch and my stomach was churning from a continual drop in courage!

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  4. TGR, a fair point about Question Time and that sort of stuff, but the point is that there's a good chance John Smeaton will poll more than the mainstream candidates - particularly the Lib Dems and Tories - in Glasgow NE, so by any reasonable standards he should be afforded parity of treatment. And the BBC knows that.

    Of course, the more frivolous and other marginal candidates are perhaps a different kettle of fish, and no system will ever be perfect, but surely the BBC could come up with something a bit more sophisticated than they've got at present.

    More generally, the BBC's current thinking just perpetuates the current party oligarchy, because you need some kind of critical mass for them to give you airtime, but getting the critical mass is made more difficult without their airtime.

    And the same could be said about the press generally.

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  5. Fair comment TGR. But at the Euros, the SNP fielded six candidates whilst Jury Team fielded 58. Did we get ten times the coverage?

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