BBC Trust responds to SNP debate appeal

Monday, April 19 2010, 11:20 BST

By Andrew Laughlin,

The BBC Trust has contacted the Scottish National Party to discuss its exclusion from the corporation's forthcoming prime ministerial debate.

The SNP and Welsh nationalist party Plaid Cymru want their leaders to be given a presence alongside Gordon Brown, Nick Clegg and David Cameron on the BBC's debate programme, which will air on April 29.

After rejecting the BBC's suggestion of a fourth televised debate focused on "issues more relevant to devolved nations", the two parties have now pushed the Trust into considering more advanced action.

In a letter to SNP leader Alex Salmond and Plaid Cymru leader Ieuan Wyn Jones, the Trust asked both parties to prepare for a possible oral hearing on their appeal, which could go ahead during any time between April 22 and April 27.

The Trust also said that it is in direct conversations with BBC director general Mark Thompson about submitting a formal response to the appeal.

An ad hoc committee of five Trustees - the Trustee for Scotland, the Trustee for Wales and three members of its editorial standards committee - will now decide whether there is need for an oral hearing on the matter.

SNP chief executive Peter Murrell confirmed that the party is ready to meet the Trust "at any time" to discuss the appeal.

"The exclusion of the SNP, the party of government in Scotland, from the election leaders' debates is fundamentally undemocratic. We also believe it is a clear breach of the BBC's obligation of impartiality," he said.

"We also believe that the BBC Executive has failed in its duties by excluding the SNP and Plaid Cymru from the negotiations which were held with the other parties over what was clearly a prolonged period.

Murrell added: "Those discussions effectively allowed the UK parties to dictate the
format of the leaders' debates to the broadcasters.

"As a result of the debate format agreed by the BBC Executive, there is a clear danger of misinforming and misleading voters in Scotland. We know we have an extremely strong case, and now look forward to making that case directly to the BBC Trust."

Yesterday, a Trust spokesperson confirmed that the organisation has written to Plaid Cymru and the SNP to inform them that their appeal will be heard by the ad hoc committee.

"As with all appeals, this committee will first consider if the appeal is admissible. If it is, the committee will consider whether an oral hearing is necessary," said the spokesperson.

"If it is not necessary, the committee will then hear the admissible parts of the appeal at the same meeting. If the committee considers that an oral hearing is necessary, the committee will reconvene at a later date to allow for this. As with all appeals, the Trust will publish the outcome of its decision."

Earlier in the month, Scotland's first minister Salmond pledged to shun the regional debate programmes in Scotland being planned by the BBC and ITV.

However, Salmond said that he would take part in Sky's Scottish debate as the satellite broadcaster has "engaged properly" with the SNP.