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Tuesday, 6 April 2010

BBC plunged into BNP election row (UK)

Senior BBC journalists are furious that the BNP leader Nick Griffin is being guaranteed prime time interview slots in compensation for his omission from the first ever televised prime ministerial debates.

A new directive issued by corporation executives forces the editors of flagship news programmes to give airtime to minority parties, including the BNP, immediately after the live debate between Gordon Brown, David Cameron and Nick Clegg.

Insiders have revealed they are deeply unhappy and believe that the edict – overseen by the BBC's deputy director general and head of journalism Mark Byford – could wreck proper reporting of the debates.

The editors and presenters on Radio 4's Today programme have been told they must interview representatives of the BNP, Ukip, the Green party, SNP and Plaid Cymru on the same show, the morning after the debates.

Sources said this will leave almost no room for serious discussion of how the mainstream leaders performed.
One source said: "We're all spitting feathers here. This is further proof that the BBC's obsession with 'compliance' is destroying its news coverage and journalism.
"The only result of this directive from Mark Byford and the rest of the overpaid detached senior management is that listeners will simply switch off in droves.
"The idea of having to interview the Ukip leader Nigel Farage – let alone Nick Griffin – is turning people's stomachs."

Another senior source added: "People are very angry indeed. The Today programme has an audience of 6.5 million people and everybody knows it is easily the most important of the BBC's morning news programmes.

"And yet it is being treated like the man at the Lord Mayor's Show who has to walk behind the main parade sweeping up the muck with a bucket and a shovel. "The Today programme is being used to assuage the minority parties rather than doing what it is meant to which is analysing the performance of the three main party leaders."
In addition to the Today Programme slot, the minority parties, including the BNP, will be given air time immediately after the debate on BBC One's News at Ten as well as on Newsnight on BBC Two – both of which will inevitably attract large audiences.

The directive will infuriate campaigners who believe the BBC has already pandered to Mr Griffin by allowing him to appear on Question Time last year.
The BBC was accused of needlessly giving Mr Griffin the oxygen of publicity to boost ratings.
Under the new rules, the nationalist parties will also get their own local television leadership debates in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
There will be three, 90-minute televised debates, each taking place a week apart in the run up to the election expected on 6 May.
The first will be broadcast on ITV1, the second on Sky News and the third on BBC One, each on different topics.
The BBC will screen the debates on rival channels later that evening 'as live' which will then be followed by further discussion with the fringe parties.
BBC insiders fear they will have to give the minority parties compensatory airtime after each of the three debates – not just following the BBC contest, although that has been denied by the corporation.

The BBC defended its decision to give slots to the minority parties, saying it was necessary to maintain impartiality.
Ric Bailey, the BBC's chief political adviser, said: "This [row] is a complete nonsense. This is about the BBC ensuring due impartiality to make sure the other parties get fair representation."
"During an election we have a very high threshold for making sure that minority parties – based on their electoral support – get appropriate coverage.
"Because this [debate] is so new and different we are trying to plan this ahead. In the past it would have been a judgment for each programme. This time we are making sure in advance where and when these parties will get coverage."

Sky News sources said the channel would also have to accommodate the minority parties in the wake of the debates but since it has 24 hours of rolling news, little in the way of analysis will be sacrificed to make space for them.
The source said: “We have a lot of airtime – 24 hours a day in fact – so it’s relatively easy for us to reflect the views of the minority parties.”

ITV was unavailable for comment.

The Telegraph