Broadcasters agree TV election debates

Tuesday, December 22 2009, 09:31 GMT

By Andrew Laughlin,

The BBC, ITV and Sky have agreed deals to stage live televised debates with the three main political parties in the run-up to next year's general election.

First mooted back in October, the concept of US-style TV debates has been gathering credence with the political leaders ever since.

Under the new arrangement, each broadcaster will stage one prime ministerial debate, with Conservative leader David Cameron, Labour prime minister Gordon Brown and Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg on the panel.

Aired at peak time, the 85-90 minute programmes will be filmed in front of a specially selected studio audience. Each broadcaster will use the same core format for their debate and around half of the programme will take on a theme.

Hosted by Alastair Stewart, ITV's debate will run first, followed by Sky's programme fronted by Sky News' political editor Adam Boulton and finally the BBC's version presented by David Dimbleby.

The BBC and Sky have agreed to simulcast their programmes to other broadcasters, while ITV will make its debate available immediately after transmission. More negotiations will be held in the New Year to finalise exact details of the debate format.

There will also be separate debates held for all the main parties in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to be aired on the BBC's regional services, as well as the BBC News channel. Sky News will also run its own separate debates in Scotland and Wales.

After all the political debates are completed, each party will be "offered opportunities" across the BBC and Sky News to respond further to any issues raised.

Where appropriate, ITV also plans to provide a platform for the views of other parties. Further talks in regards to political debate coverage on the ITV licence holders will continue into the New Year.