This post is a reflection of the draft guidelines published yesterday by the BBC regarding their coverage of the Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) elections (I am standing in Sussex as an Independent Candidate). The reason for the post is to encourage you to read the guidelines for yourself and if you feel it is appropriate to try to respond with comments. However that may be easier said than done. On 27th July (the day I wrote this blog) I attempted to respond to the consultation via email at the address provided by the BBC email@example.com . Within hours the email was returned as undelivered. I rang the complaints line 03700 103100 and the person I spoke to confirmed that it was not working (I spoke to two operators on different days who both confirmed this was the case). I then spoke to the BBC on the last day of the consultation with the email still not working. I am now finally updating this blog with the news that the BBC are on the case, have promised to update their web page and have extended the consultation period by a week! I was given the email address of firstname.lastname@example.org to send my response to so I suggest you do the same.
In terms of the consultation, I have read through the guidelines and would certainly welcome any comments from readers of this blog on either their own views of the guidelines or else to challenge my own responses.
The first thing that is clear is the reference in several places to the decision that ‘the BBC will not commission voting intention polls’ This is perhaps disappointing for those like me who would love to know the mood of the electors in my region, but it does make clear that the BBC will go into this election without any prejudice or view of a likely outcome which is good news.
The next item of note is section 3.1 which is entitled Coverage of Candidates this is of particular interest to me as an Independent candidate, I have previously blogged on this issue here and here. The section includes the encouraging text:
‘These first PCC elections take place in a particular political context; that is, without there being any direct evidence of “past electoral support” for these particular elections which could be taken into account in making appropriate editorial judgements about the “due weight” accorded to different candidates. In each constituency, therefore, content producers should take a consistent approach to the level of coverage given to all the candidates.’
This seems clear enough, if the focus is on Sussex I will get as much airtime as that for either Katy Bourne, the Conservative candidate or Godfrey Daniel, the Labour candidate. However the paragraph continues:
‘In line with other elections, content producers may take account of robust and objective evidence of “current electoral support” and of any relevant political circumstances in making such judgements to attain due impartiality.’
This may simply be an allowance for the broadcasters to down play the impact of any candidates who are standing who have something of the monster raving loony party about them, but it could be a way of reverting to the dominant two-party situation that will probably exist at a national level. In my view it is vital that this sentence is explained still further if the broadcasters and viewers are able to understand what to expect. The final comments must not be allowed to undo the early promise of impartiality. If the BBC will not have their own polls, they should treat all candidates equally – will they?
At the top of page 6 the following text appears:
‘Content producers should be alert to other politicians who are not involved directly in the elections, including ministers and shadow ministers at Westminster, intervening in issues relevant to the elections and ensure that due impartiality is maintained. Some members of other elected bodies may also be candidates in the elections; care should be taken to ensure that unfair advantage is not derived from other such political roles.’
The areas to be mindful here are the involvement of the Home Secretary and Policing Minister (currently Theresa May and Nick Herbert) and the shadow ministers. This is particularly crucial as Independent candidates do not have an equivalent to speak up for them.
At the top of page 7 we get the following:
‘Content producers may take account of robust and objective evidence of “current electoral support” and of relevant political circumstances in making judgements about relative levels of coverage for different candidates in the same election.’
Once again here we need to understand is the BBC intending to reduce the impact of a monster raving loony, or to only focus on the two main parties to the exclusion of a smattering of Lib Dem candidates and credible Independents?
There is another key section (4.2 on pages 7&8) which refers specifically to Independents:
‘Network programmes containing items covering the PCC elections in general, must take care to ensure that the inclusion of contributors from parties which are standing candidates in many or all the constituencies does not cause unfairness to other candidates (eg independents) standing individually in a constituency.’
There are other elements in section 4.2 to consider but this reference to Independents needs to both be welcomed and accepted (the parties are bound to challenge it) but also challenged as not being strong enough. These words do not demand equal space and time for Independents and this is really essential. If Sussex is being focused on I don’t want my contribution to be limited to a soundbite and a photo if Katy and Godfrey are being interviewed in the studio.
My final comment relates to item 7 on page 11 under the heading of Party Leader Interviews:
‘With the exception of brief newsgathering interviews gathered on news value on the day, all bids for party leader interviews must be referred to the Chief Adviser Politics before parties are approached. Unsolicited offers should not be accepted without consultation with senior managers and a reference to the Chief Adviser Politics.’
Clearly interviewing any high-profile figures regarding the election will be helpful in raising the profile of this campaign and so should be welcomed. However the party candidates keep on claiming they will not be whipped or biased and they even plan to sign an impartiality clause (similar to Santa Claus as far as I can tell). Critically what this item does not do is explain the need to ensure that if Political Parties are able to put forward national figures, how the BBC will ensure that an Independent voice is also included in these interviews. This election must not bee seen by the public as a two Donkey Derby!
I hope that you will consider responding to this draft document, it seems to be weak in the places where it says good things, and open to bias in other areas. This is a great opportunity to ensure that my campaign, along with that of other Independents is given the best opportunity of being heard and seen.
Reblogged this on TopOfTheCops.com and commented:
Sussex Independent Candidate Ian Chisnall on the BBC’s developing views about covering the PCC election fairly.
Ian – thanks for circulating this……….perhaps it will stop the BBC reverting to John Prescott all the time………………
Peter, one can only hope so, although I guess to be fair, when I speak to people they have registered that what I am standing for is the same as him, and I always come away with a vote intact so perhaps we better consider what we are wishing for!
I have complained to the BBC 3 times recently. I have asked my complaint toi be esculated by BBC radio live 5, BBC radio Kent, and BBC radio 4.
My complaints consisted of BBC bias, prejudice I am awaiting more comments from them.
Dear Mr Little
Thanks for contacting us with your comments regarding Craig MacKinlay on Radio 5 live’s ‘Shelagh Fogarty’ recently.
Please accept our apologies for the delay in replying. We know our correspondents appreciate a quick response and are sorry you’ve had to wait on this occasion.
Craig MacKinlay featured on 5 live on 19 June to discuss the overall subject of elected Police and Crime Commissioners across England and Wales. Mr MacKinlay took part in the discussion in response to a Yougov poll which suggested that two thirds of people either oppose the new posts or don’t know enough about them. Mr MacKinlay was not therefore primarily speaking about his own candidacy, but on the overall subject of elected commissioners.
Contrary to what you suggest about BBC News’ coverage of independent candidates for the role of Kent Police Commissioner, we have featured reports on South East Today, Radio Kent and the BBC News website about Ann Barnes’ candidacy. Your candidacy was also mentioned in the following article, alongside other independents:
We will continue to report on all the candidates in a fair and impartial manner in the run up to the election in November.
We’d also like to assure you that we’ve registered your comments on our audience log for the benefit of programme makers, news teams, and senior management within the BBC. The audience logs are important documents that can help shape future decisions and they ensure that your points, and all other comments we receive, are made available to BBC staff across the Corporation.
Thanks again for contacting us.
this is a copy of an e mail sent to BBC Wales on the 18th of June … as yet a reply is not forthcoming …………….
Dear BBC Wales Today,
with BBC Wales Today and Radio 4 today I am very disappointed
Once again the BBC bias for the Labour Party shouts from the rooftops.
The focusing on the Labour Party has not been addressed since I complained about the very same thing in January this year. (11th January 2012)
The Labour Party have today announced their ‘policing manifesto’ – Mine has been live for almost 4 months and is regularly updated.
Where was the opportunity for anyone to challenge the First Minister in his Party Political Broadcast so highly placed in the broadcast?
Where are the Independent Candidates? You cannot expect impartiality just to mention Simon Weston
Where is the fact that Labour candidates were returned un-opposed?
Where is the fact that less that 40% of voters actually submitted votes for ALL the candidates?
Where is the fact that the Labour Party machine is promoting candidates who are supported by only 20% of their own party members?
Where was the questioning on behalf of the public?
I hope I can gain a reply.
Christopher Edwin Wright
Hi Ken and Christopher, I too have complained (about Andrew Pierce on Week in Westminster, interviewing Baird and MacKinlay only and then asking them about their views of Independents – at least Craig thought about it!) I was promised a quick response and then waited almost a fortnight. The response was less than impressive (felt like ‘so sue us’).
Dear Mr Little
Thank you for contacting us regarding 5live and Radio Kent.
We appreciate your continued correspondence and we note you have been in regular contact with the editor of Radio Kent about the Kent PPC elections. Audience Services have nothing further to add to his conversations with you on this matter.
Turning to your on-going concerns regarding the 19 June edition of 5live’s Shelagh Fogarty, we have raised your concerns with the relevant staff at the programme.
They would like to stress that the focus of the discussion was whether the creation of PCC’s had the support of the general public. The programme did not focus the discussion on the candidacy of the individuals or the specific issues for their area. The programme chose to interview Craig MacKinlay because both the Labour Party and the Conservative Party had just announced their candidates for PCC’s.
The programme chose to focus on those parties and not independents on that day for that reason. They approached the Conservative Party who put forward Mr MacKinlay. We also interviewed the Labour candidate for Northumbria. By having two candidates from two very different regions we were able to concentrate on the broader question of the creation of PCC’s. At the very end of the interview they were each asked one question about their own candidacy but this was a small part of the broader item. The programme will continue to follow the story in the run up to the November election.
Should you now wish to proceed to the second stage of the complaints process specifically regarding the appearance of Craig MacKinlay during the 19 June edition of Shelagh Fogarty, it’s now open to you to write to the Director of BBC News:
London W12 7RJ
Should you choose to escalate your complaint our procedures stipulate you do so within 20 days of receiving this correspondence.
Thanks again for taking the time to contact us.
Ian Chisnall is correct ot complain. See ‘Brighton Scandal’ on google.