After a week of political wrangling between the Leaders of Plaid Cymru and the Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP) on one side and the BBC on the other, the British broadcaster stated on Friday (12th March) that it was prepared to consider proposals on how it should include the two political parties in TV broadcasts running up to the general election.
The row was ignited last week after it emerged that Plaid Cymru and the SNP would be excluded from participation in a Prime Ministerial political debate by the BBC in the run up to the general election. In a joint press statement released by the Leaders of Plaid Cymru and the Scottish Nationalist Party, Ieuan Wyn Jones AM and Alex Salmond MP MSP, expressed their disappointment about what they claim is the BBC’s overt political bias towards the London based parties.
The statement said that the BBC’s decision has meant that the BBC is allowing “itself to become politically compromised.” The Leaders argued that after “almost 90 years of being a world respected independent broadcaster” the BBC had compromised its impartiality.
Both Leaders also wrote to the Director General of the BCC Mark Thompson, stating that the BBC’s position denied the “fair competition of ideas” and “could endanger the conduct of a free election.” In a statement to the international press on the issue, the Leader’s went on to say:
“The BBC’s proposal effectively disenfranchises the people of Scotland and Wales. The format as currently devised makes no allowances for the reality of the devolution settlement which sees the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly – and indeed the Northern Irish Assembly – responsible for a number of key policy areas including health and education. We believe this is a retrograde step by the BBC which reflects an overly centralised, metropolitan and outdated attitude and which fails to meet the needs of three of the constituent nations of the United Kingdom.
“Around the world, there are excellent examples of state broadcasters who do manage to achieve balance in far more complex political situations–Canada’s CBC being a notable example. It is hugely disappointing the BBC lacks the ambition to even try.”
The alleged impartiality demonstrated by the BBC has resulted in Plaid Cymru and the SNP saying that they will look again at their respective party’s Broadcasting policies to review their support of the BBC television licence. SNP Westminster Leader Angus Robertson MP argued that:
“With the cavalier attitude of London establishment continuing, we must devolve broadcasting to the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly – where the interests of Scottish and Welsh licence payers will be a priority, not an afterthought.”
After a meeting between Plaid Cymru, the SNP and the BBC on Friday though, the BBC said that they would consider the proposals being put forward by the political parties. The BBC Chief political advisor said:
“We talked to them about the UK debate but also the debate among the leaders in Scotland, and about all the things that we’re going to be doing during the campaign to ensure due impartiality.”
However a call made to the Broadcasters’ Liaison Group by Cornish nationalist party, Mebyon Kernow – the Party for Cornwall, for equal broadcasting parity with other political parties in Cornwall has fallen on deaf ears. The BBC argued that a:
“…registered political party which stands candidates in a minimum of one sixth of the seats up for election in a nation will qualify for one party election broadcast in that nation.”
Leader of MK, Cllr. Dick Cole, argued in response:
“Mebyon Kernow will be standing in all six seats in the nation of Cornwall. But that does not seem to matter to broadcaster. Under their rules, to get a broadcast MK would need to stand n all six Cornish seats as well as 83 seats in England, which would cost us £41,500 in deposits alone! Who says `democracy’ isn’t biased against smaller parties?”