SNP to meet BBC over TV debate lock-out

Friday, March 12 2010, 12:08 GMT

By Andrew Laughlin,

Senior figures from the SNP will today meet the BBC and ITV to discuss an ongoing row over the party's exclusion from the main UK TV election debates.

Among the SNP delegation attending a meeting today in Edinburgh will be the party's leader and Scotland's First Minister Alex Salmond, who is angry at being locked out of the main debates being held on the BBC, Sky and ITV.

The three broadcasters recently agreed a format with prime minister Gordon Brown, Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg and Conservative leader David Cameron for their participation in 90-minute debate programmes to air at peak time.

Regional debates will be held by the BBC and Sky in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, but Salmond believes that excluding the SNP and Welsh nationalist party Plaid Cymru from the main UK programmes calls into question "the impartiality of the BBC in advance of the general election".

Salmond also criticised the decision to select audience members for the main UK debates from within 30 miles of each English city where they are to be filmed.

He said that the current format will "effectively disenfranchise" people from the nations and regions of the UK and "mislead viewers in Scotland due to the number of topics which will not be applicable to the situation here".

Salmond and Plaid Cymru leader Ieuan Wyn Jones yesterday sent a joint letter to BBC director general Mark Thompson officially complaining about the TV debates.

In response to Salmond's criticism, the BBC's chief political adviser Ric Bailey said that the debates were "incredibly difficult" to put together, but there will be plenty of opportunities for regional parties to have they say.

Speaking on BBC Scotland's Good Morning Scotland programme, Bailey said: "There are UK-wide debates, there will be a separate debate by the BBC in Scotland, on top of that we will make sure that around the prime ministerial debate there are lots of other opportunities where other parties, including the SNP, have an opportunity to put their views across.

"That's the key to this: 'Is it fair that the voters in Scotland hear the parties in an appropriate way?' Particularly on UK-wide coverage as well as our channels that broadcast just in Scotland."

He added: "The SNP is clearly a major party in Scotland but it does not field candidates across the whole of the UK. So it is important that voters in Scotland have an opportunity to hear the SNP appropriately on UK-wide outlets.

"And they will hear that, not just on our news coverage but on all our channels which broadcast UK wide. There will be plenty of opportunity for people who hear those channels in Scotland to hear the views of the SNP."