Scottish Greens Lodge Official Complaint with BBC Question Time

13 June 2013

Scottish Greens have lodged an official complaint with the BBC about the lack of balance on Question Time, and have asked for an urgent meeting with corporation managers so they can explain how they will remedy the problem.

Tonight's edition of the programme comes from Edinburgh, features an audience of 16 and 17 year olds and is billed on the BBC website as including discussion on independence.

The panel comprises a representative of the SNP, a non-party political journalist and four anti-independence politicians, two of whom do not represent Scottish constituencies nor do they have any party representation in Scotland. Yet there is no Scottish Green representation despite the party having 2 MSPs and 14 councillors. Scottish Greens have only appeared on Question Time once in the 14 years since the start of the Scottish Parliament – and that was over two years ago.

Scottish Greens Co-convener Patrick Harvie MSP said:

"Tonight's Question Time line up is particularly bizarre, and following a telephone discussion with the editor it is clear to me that this programme has been contrived to deliver sensationalist confrontation, rather than serious debate. The lack of balance is staggering and I know from comments we've received it's not just Green supporters who are alarmed.

"This situation is particularly unacceptable a week before the Scottish Parliamentary by-election in Aberdeen Donside, which should require particular attention to political balance. The BBC has shown serious misjudgement in allowing tonight's programme to go ahead and we look forward to meeting senior managers to discuss how they intend to rectify a situation that will have harmed the broadcaster's reputation for fairness."

The complaint from the Scottish Green Party to the BBC's Executive Editor Hayley valentine and Phil Abrams of the Editorial Policy Unit is as follows...

Dear Ms Valentine,

We wish to object in the strongest possible terms to the choice of panellists for BBC Question Time tonight (13 June). This follows our consistent raising of concern over a number of years about the Scottish Greens’ lack of representation on the programme; in 14 years of continuous Parliamentary representation, we have been invited to participate on 1 single occasion. That occasion was nearly two and a half years ago.

Tonight’s programme will be coming from Edinburgh, with an audience of 16 & 17 year olds, debating independence – this is specifically billed on the BBC website. The panel chosen is extremely skewed on the independence question; with only one panellist explicitly committed to independence as a preferred constitutional option, the programme is showing no balance whatsoever on this crucial question.

Green MSP Patrick Harvie is a member of the Yes Scotland advisory board and could have provided the required balance; he is also a member of Referendum Bill Committee in Parliament, which has been handling the legislation to reduce the voting age to 16. Given that this decision is being made by the Scottish Parliament, we can see no basis for the decision to include only one MSP on the panel, and specifically one who is opposed to the reduction in the voting age.

George Galloway is an MP for an English constituency representing a political party, Respect, which literally does not exist in Scotland, and contests no elections. On the one occasion when they did, Mr Galloway stood for election in Glasgow and even in a PR election was only able to secure 3.3% of the vote.

Nigel Farage has also been added to the panel at the last minute. UKIP has no elected representation in Scotland at any level, as against SGP’s 2 MSPs and 14 local councillors. In the last Scottish Parliament election they secured 0.91% of regional votes across Scotland.

This panel is taking place during the Aberdeen Donside by-election, and the BBC has a duty to demonstrate balance at such a time. Donside is part of the North East Scotland region, where UKIP achieved 0.9% of the vote in the 2011 election.

The rationale for this selection may include UKIP’s recent success in the English local elections. UKIP now have approximately the same number of local councillors as GPEW, despite blanket media coverage. But this is NOT an English local election, it’s a debate with a Scottish independence focus, taking place during a Scottish Parliamentary by-election.

This failure even to attempt balance in party political terms, or in terms of the referendum debate is surely a breach of the BBC’s duty to impartiality. Patrick Harvie discussed these various points with Nicolai Gentchev this morning, and our head of media Jason Rose raised them with Phil Abrams of the BBC policy unit. Mr Gentchev defended the decision to include Mr Farage on the programme citing his recent encounter with protesters in Edinburgh; we are deeply disturbed if the BBC’s flagship political debate programme gives greater attention to political stunts than to fair balance.

We seek an urgent meeting to discuss how you intend to redress this situation, not only in the short term but in the run-up to the referendum in 2014.

Yours sincerely,

Martha Wardrop and Patrick Harvie, Co-conveners of the Scottish Green Party