BBC Bias

With reference to the stories in the Guardian and Independent about how the BBC is refusing to include the Green Party in the general election TV leader debates, here’s the complaint I made to the BBC…

The BBC has already been showing an extreme and (given the party’s rhetoric and policies) worrying bias towards UKIP. Now it is also displaying an extreme illogic in its inclusion of UKIP and the LibDems but exclusion of the Green Party in the general election TV leader debates. How is it possible to argue this based on the 2010 General Election results, when UKIP had a grand total of zero MPs, and on polling since, given that the Greens have overtaken the LibDems?

It is notable that UKIP support is concentrated in the parts of the country with the least immigration, which might indicate that immigration is no big deal where it has happened. I wish I had the words to express how dismayed I am at the way the BBC is giving a platform to UKIP. Its policies are deeply damaging to women, to our relationship with the rest of Europe, and to the future habitability of our planet. On the other hand, the Greens must be doing and saying something right, if they have the establishment so worried!

And here’s the amazingly quick response, which even at 8pm-ish appears to be tailored and not just automated. Good to know the licence fee goes towards a large phalanx of complaint-responders…

Dear Ms  Bryden

Thank you for contacting us about the proposed format for the 2015 General Election debates. We have received a wide range of feedback from supporters of different political parties across the UK. In order to use our TV licence fee resources efficiently, this response aims to answer the key concerns, but we apologise in advance if it doesn’t address your specific points in the manner you would prefer.

The BBC is working with other broadcasters to try and make election debates happen in 2015 and we believe we have set out a fair and realistic formula. Twenty two million people saw some of the debates in 2010. They were very successful in engaging the electorate, especially first time voters and the broadcasters would like them to happen again at next year’s general election. We are also putting forward our own proposals for other debates across the UK.

Ensuring impartiality during an election campaign is a priority and judgements about debates, and other programmes, are taken on the basis of objective editorial assessments of a number of factors, including the levels of past and current electoral support for each party.

Although UKIP did not win a seat in the 2010 general election, they polled more than three times as many votes as the Green Party, which did win a seat. In the 2014 European elections, UKIP topped the poll, beating all the Westminster parties in terms of seats (24) and share of the vote (more than 27% – up more than 10% on 2009). The Greens won three seats in the European election, with just under 8% of the vote (a small drop since 2009).

UKIP have also performed strongly in local government elections in England for the past two years and have more councillors than the Greens. Before their victory in Clacton, UKIP had come second in every Westminster by-election for the last two years – the Greens’ best performance was around 4%.

We also take account of opinion polls, when there is a robust and consistent trend: UKIP have been regularly polling in the mid-teens for more than two years, well ahead, for instance, of the Liberal Democrats and around 10 percentage points ahead of the Greens.

The BBC has since responded to a letter from the Green Party, which expressed disappointment at the proposals unveiled by the UK’s four leading broadcasters for election debates next year. You can read the response in full at:

In Scotland, the BBC is proposing a debate, in peak time on BBC One, involving the leaders of the SNP, Scottish Labour, the Scottish Conservative and Scottish Liberal Democrat parties. We are proposing a similar format of debate on BBC One from Wales, involving the leaders of Plaid Cymru, Labour, the Conservatives, the Liberal Democrats and UKIP. We have written to the parties to begin discussions about our proposals and we will ensure impartiality during the Election in Scotland and Wales. Full details of our content will be released over the coming months once they are finalised.

We hope this goes some way in addressing your concerns, thanks again for taking the time to contact us.

Kind Regards
BBC Complaints

To which I responded…

The implication is that the Green Party is the only party in Britain with an MP and local councillors and MEPs and polling over 5%, but no leader voice in any televised debate.

Also, I wondered whether you could respond to my comments about the BBC giving a platform to UKIP and ignoring the Green Party, which must at least partially be a factor in what you describe in your letter: “UKIP has demonstrated a substantial increase in electoral support since 2014 across a range of elections along with a consistent and robust trend across a full range of opinion polls; the Green party has not demonstrated any comparable increase in support in either elections or opinion polls”.

And they immediately came back with a repeat of their previous response, so it wasn’t tailored after all, and the licence fee is only going towards an algorithm. Rumbled!

And here’s where you too can make a complaint.

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