Broadening the General Election television debates

Abstract

Debate around the implications of greater political pluralism for representation on, structure of, and content for the proposed General Election television debates in April 2015 continues apace. Ekklesia wrote to the BBC back in October 2014 setting out the case for broadening these debates beyond what get defined as 'major parties'. We are now making that public. Much of what we said has subsequently become part of the ongoing media discussions – with added distinctive features, such as the notion of a "People's Debate". We will be making further comment before the BBC's deadline for responding to its draft election guidelines on 5 February 2015.

Debate around the implications of greater political pluralism for representation on, structure of, and content for the proposed General Election television debates in April 2015 continues apace. Ekklesia wrote to the BBC back in October 2014 setting out the case for broadening these debates beyond what get defined as 'major parties'. We are now making that public. Much of what we said has subsequently become part of the ongoing media discussions – with added distinctive features, such as the notion of a "People's Debate". We will be making further comment before the BBC's deadline for responding to its draft election guidelines on 5 February 2015.

The core of our argument about an alternative approach to the GE2015 television debates was as follows:

If a truly fair, realistic and representative set of debates is to be created, the seven or eight leading parties across Britain should surely be involved in at least two out of an optimal four [television debates], broadcast across the whole country, in addition to specific debates in Scotland, England, Northern Ireland and Wales. Indeed, the best option would surely be to look at ‘layered’ countrywide television debates involving all of the parties, together with one focusing on interests and concerns raised by ‘civic Britain’, including charities and NGOs, businesses, unions, independents, disabled and sick people, environmental bodies, religious and non-religious belief groups, and community organisations. Call that “The People’s debate”, if you will. Such a package would represent a genuine alternative to outmoded, top-down, presidential style and gladiatorial contests for the select few ‘leaders’.

A plural, innovative approach to the 2015 television debates would and should reflect a pioneering view of politics as truly participatory, rather than one resting on a narrow conception of the electoral arena as something ‘naturally’ dominated by monopoly interests and shaped around the self-reinforcing agendas of two or three ‘major parties’ – something which our electorates, and a whole swathe of people in the nations and regions (as reflected, not least, in the recent Scottish referendum) appear to be rejecting, in any case.

In short, television debates on occasions such as the 2015 General Election should seek to catch up with and reflect changing political realities in the UK, and to enable the widest range of choices to be properly aired and heard. They should aim to be consciously multi-voiced, rather than to reinforce a hierarchical political order where those with most money (we note that the largest parties also have the wealthiest corporate and individual donors) achieve a virtual monopoly of media regard and coverage. The job of the BBC, in particular, should be as a servant of democracy, not a gatekeeper for large vested interests within it.

* The full letter, 'Rethinking the 2015 General Election television debates' (10 October 2014) can be read here (*.PDF Adobe Acrobat document): http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/sites/ekklesia.co.uk/files/general-election-de...