More pantomime than serious debate

Electoral Reform Society,

Posted on the 14th June 2013

Balanced and informative media is vital for a good democracy.

The BBC’s decision to invite controversial politicians to participate in a Question Time panel in Edinburgh and overlook two of Scotland’s elected parties was greeted with astonishment across social media yesterday. ERS Scotland was particularly concerned that this decision failed the invited audience of 16 and 17-year-olds.

How the media behave in the run up to the independence referendum in 2014 will be paramount in informing the debate. Making that clear now will, we hope, ensure fair and thorough media coverage as we approach the poll.

Our message to the BBC:  


From: Electoral Reform Society Scotland
Sent: 13 June 2013
To: Hayley Valentine, Exec Editor Question Time
Subject: Re: complaint to the BBC Question Time

Dear Ms Valentine

The Electoral Reform Society in Scotland seeks to inform and improve Scotland’s democracy. With that in mind, we have being undertaking an inquiry into what a good Scottish democracy looks like.

A major theme that has emerged from this year long, citizen led inquiry, is the importance of the media to instruct, publicise and inform the debate. There has been support for a publicly funded media provider, but a strong sense that that body should be impartial and should seek to provide balanced and informed coverage of politics. Clearly this is of particular concern in the run up to the 2014 referendum.

We were concerned therefore to see the line-up for the BBC Question Time programme to be held in Edinburgh this evening (Thursday 13th June). Not only does the selection of panellists fail to represent the make-up of Scottish politics, but it also seems to be aimed more at pantomime than serious debate.

That this should be the case when the audience is, very pleasingly, to be made up of 16 and 17 year olds in recognition of the extension of the franchise to that group for the referendum is  worrying.

It seems to show a lack of respect for these young audience members – implying that they do not deserve serious political debate. It also fails to allow them to hear from their elected representatives in this public debate forum which receives the widest of political attention. Two of the parties which will be competing for their vote in 2014 are un-represented and the Yes and Better Together campaigns are needlessly unequally represented. Were this not bad enough, available spaces on the platform are taken instead by George Galloway MP and Nigel Farage MEP, two individuals and parties who are not represented in Scotland.

We welcome the decision to involve 16 and 17 year olds in a public debate about the referendum, but the chosen panellists do those 16 and 17 year olds a disservice as they will not be able to hear from the parties who represent them and who will be seeking their vote in 2014.

We would ask the BBC to urgently reconsider the panel, and at the very least to re-schedule a repeat of this edition of Question Time, but with a panel representative of Scottish politics that respects the BBC’s role to be impartial and equal.

Yours sincerely

Willie Sullivan

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