UPDATE: ON 22 January 2015, the BBC & ITV invited the member Parties of Anti-Austerity UK alliance, The Green Party, Scottish National Party and Plaid Cymru – The Party of Wales to participate in the UK Leaders Debates. Keep Writing.
This Open Letter was re-published in Daily Wales: News for a Sovereign Nation n January 5, 2015.
Open Letter to Tony Hall
Director-General of the BBC
On the Necessity of the Inclusion of The Green Party, The Scottish National Party and Plaid Cymru – The Party of Wales in the BBC Leader’s Debates for the General Elections 2015
Make a Freedom of Information (FOI) Request to Ofcom regarding their Compliance with the Equality Act 2010 and its Supplements for Broadcasters of 2011.
28 December 2014
Anthony William Hall, Baron Hall of Birkenhead
Dear Mr. Hall (firstname.lastname@example.org), Director-General of the BBC
Rationale for the Open Letter
The purpose of this letter is twofold. On the one hand, I would like to provide a critical response to the stated methodology for the BBC’s exclusion from the Leader’s Debates for the General Election 2015 not only of the Green Party, but also the SNP and Plaid Cymru – The Party of Wales. On the other hand, since the BBC has stated that it has initiated a period of Consultation through which it will finalise the Guidelines for the 2015 Election Debates, it is thus possible that the BBC will decide to alter its position with respect to the inclusion of the Leaders of The Green Party, SNP and Plaid Cymru – The Party of Wales.
On the History of British Leader’s Debates
The history of leadership debates in the United Kingdom has been far from auspicious. With many election cycles since 1964, there have been attempts to establish Leader’s Debates, all of which were unsuccessful. It was not until 2010 that such Debates finally took place. It is important to keep in mind that these debates were accompanied, as with the current discussions surrounding the 2015 debates, by charges of exclusion and bias. I would suggest, foreshadowing a discussion of the Elections Debate Guidelines of 2010, that it would be deeply problematic to regard the 2010 Election Debates as a model for those of 2015. Not only is it against the ‘spirit of science’ to establish the Guidelines from one questionable example as ‘longstanding’ policy, but such a position does not take into account the changes in the law since then which necessitate inclusivity and diversity in Public Institutions – namely The Equality Act of 2010 and its Statutory supplements of 2011.
The Green Party’s Appeal for Inclusion and Petition
The Green Party made a direct appeal to the BBC for its inclusion (as well as SNP and Plaid Cymru – The Party of Wales) in the Leader’s Debates after it received a negative response to its 15 October letter to the BBC. The negative response, of 24 October 2014, signed by Ric Bailey, Chief Advisor of the BBC, Politics, relied upon, firstly, a repetition of the 2010 Guidelines (‘We anticipate that the substance of this guidance is likely to be replicated for 2015, although you may wish to note that the draft election guidelines for 2015 will be published by the BBC Trust early next month for a public consultation process.’)
Secondly, the decision of exclusion was based upon a specific interpretation of ‘impartiality’ and ‘public service’ which is defined methodologically as past and current voting results and polls. In response to this decision, a group of cross-party MPs sent an ‘Open Letter to the BBC Trust’ which pointed out not only the widespread support amongst the public for a more inclusive debate, but also noted a petition for the inclusion of the Green Party which had already received 250,000 signatures at the time of the Open Letter. A further ICM Poll of 19 December 2014 revealed that 80% of the public supports the inclusion of The Green Party in the Election Debates. In this way, even in the context on their own criteria, and in light of the principles binding the BBC,
‘Engage a wide audience in news, current affairs and other topical issues.
Encourage conversation and debate about news, current affairs and topical issues.
Build greater understanding of the parliamentary process and political institutions governing the UK.’ (Open Letter to the BBC Trust 10 November 2014),’
the inclusion of minority parties is not only an issue of fairness but also of regulatory duty. The inclusion of UKIP, for instance, was pointed out as an example of bias, not only in terms of its alleged political support, but also in reference to the vital interests of gender diversity, in light of the fact that only male candidates have been invited to the debates and that the three Leaders of the Green Party, SNP and Plaid Cymru – The Party of Wales are female. There is also the question of diversity with respect to political opinion and advocacy as all those invited to the ‘Old Boy’s Club Debates’ support the politics of Austerity and privatisation, while those who have been excluded are opposed to austerity, and have even formed an Anti-Austerity alliance to attempt to ‘hold the balance of power’ in a hung parliament, which is a likely outcome of the next election.
The BBC’s Flawed Basis for Exclusion: On Crudity of Method and Bias
The interpretation of the BBC of its public duty to represent a range of opinion and to remain impartial has been defined as electoral support and current measures of electoral support. The SNP (despite the near miss of the Scottish referendum) and Plaid Cymru – The Party of Wales have been excluded on the basis that they are ‘regional parties.’ (Scotland and Wales include millions of British citizens and must be included until they become independent states. The BBC cannot have it both ways.) I must say that this is a very crude, reductive and potentially illegal methodological criteria, one made even more problematic by the status of precedent which has been given to the 2010 Election Debates, which, as I have already mentioned, was fraught with charges of exclusion and claims of bias.
In order for an election process to have the confidence of the people, it is necessary for there to be an inclusive process which does not even have the appearance of bias. Yet, bias has already been claimed in the decision to have ‘Old Boy’s Club Debates’ which is especially problematic due to the already mentioned ideological homogeneity of those chosen to participate. The very fact that an Electoral Alliance has recently been established by the Greens, SNP and Plaid Cymru – The Party of Wales, should compel a departure from the 2010 protocols. As suggested, it is very possible that there will be a hung parliament and these excluded parties may be called upon to form a Coalition government. To exclude them from the Debates is therefore not only bias – it is also censorship. Such a position by the BBC will only increase the alienation felt by many voters, who will increasingly turn to social media and other alternatives to gain information for the upcoming highly important elections.
On the Necessity of Inclusion and Diversity
A Democracy requires, as has been pointed out in various representations to the BBC by the minority parties over the last months, inclusiveness and diversity. Yet, this is not merely an issue of fairness, of an optional ethics, but since 2010, has become a matter of law in the Equality Act of 2010, and its supplements pertaining to Broadcasting in 2011, which must be taken into account in the development of Electoral Debate Guidelines for 2015. One questionable precedent from 2010 cannot trump the dynamics and shifts in the support amongst the parties which, in the interests of democracy, must be given equal time to present their case to the people of the United Kingdom.
Equality, as a legal criterion, necessitates the inclusivity of opinion and orientations, especially those which are not represented at all in the currently included parties. The Guidelines from 2010 must be revisited since they are not above the law, which requires that public institutions, including broadcast organisations, provide for the diversity and inclusivity of opinion with respect to the myriad preferences and orientations of the population. Failure to adhere to the necessity of the Equality Act 2010 will throw the entire Election process into doubt.
The BBC should be transparent with regards to its compliance with the Equality Act of 2010 and the 2011 Statutory Instruments (No. 2260), Special Duties, and Regulations of the Act.
I therefore make the strongest possible recommendation to include the Green Party, the SNP and Plaid Cymru – The Party of Wales in the Leader’s Debates of 2015.
Dr James Luchte BS, PhD
Dr James Luchte is an author, scholar, and member of Plaid Cymru – The Party of Wales.