TV broadcasters asked to think again on appearance of SNP and Plaid Cymru in election debates

THE BBC is considering a proposal from the SNP that – in addition to the Corporation’s current plan to broadcast a Prime Ministerial debate involving Labour leader, Gordon Brown, along with his Tory and LibDem counterparts – it then repeats the process to include the leaders of SNP and Plaid Cymru.

It follows a meeting held today at SNP offices in Edinburgh involving the BBC, followed by another involving ITV and STV.

The BBC, ITV and Sky have jointly agreed a format for TV debates involving the leaders of the three main political parties, with each broadcaster transmitting their own debate.

But all this week, Alex Salmond, the SNP leader has complained about his party being excluded.

Says a statement issued by the SNP: “It remains deeply unsatisfactory that neither the BBC nor ITV are prepared to re-open the 90 minutes of debate or their closed shop deal with the three London parties.

“As a result, it is clear that not just the interests of the SNP and Plaid Cymru, the parties of Government in both Scotland and Wales, but the interests of the Scottish people risk being sidelined at key points in this election campaign.

“The BBC are particularly culpable as a national broadcaster whose obligations to licence fee payers in Scotland should be as great as to those in England. There is real rage against the BBC machine that as a national broadcaster it is behaving as the English Broadcasting Company and not serving the people of Scotland.”

A two-hour meeting with the BBC involved the Corporation’s chief political adviser, Ric Bailey, and head of news and current affairs at BBC Scotland, Atholl Duncan.

The decision by the BBC, ITV and Sky to invite the leaders of just the three main UK parties to debate is because they are predicated on being Prime Ministerial.

Duncan told “The BBC’s responsibility is to ensure impartiality across the whole campaign. On BBC Scotland alone, the SNP will make 20 major appearances on programmes across the campaign, at least eight being with senior members of the party and a dozen involving four-party debates. Plus, there is all our news coverage across TV, radio and online.”

Added the SNP statement: “The SNP remains willing to be extremely flexible to ensure the broadcasters can meet their obligations and that a fair and representative debate is available to viewers in Scotland and elsewhere.

“We have put a proposal to the BBC for an additional leaders debate involving the political leaders from the UK-wide debates alongside the SNP and Plaid Cymru on constitutional issues, issues of concern to Scotland and Wales and the importance of Scottish and Welsh voters in determining the make up of the next UK Parliament .

“We await the BBC’s response to this idea before determining our next steps.”

In a criticism of ITV, the SNP statement continued, claiming: “As an example of how much thought has been given to the London parties, and how little to Scotland, ITV had not yet determined if they will broadcast the STV debate in the Borders – a move which could exclude a significant part of the Scottish population from the election. ITV have now indicated they will consider this issue.”