Belfast Telegraph

Ex-Ukip leader 'ambushed' on BBC show joins furore over hijacking of Talkback

By Adrian Rutherford and Claire O'Boyle

A politician who claimed she was ambushed by a rival party on a flagship BBC show has accused the broadcaster of failing to learn from its mistakes.

Former Ukip leader Diane James said revelations that Alliance had plotted to "hijack" Talkback showed the BBC hadn't got a grip on the problem.

She was branded "disgusting" by a member of a Question Time audience who, it was later claimed, had been planted by the Labour Party.

The incident in March 2013 triggered dozens of complaints to the corporation.

Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph, Ms James said she was shocked to learn of the Alliance incident, revealed earlier this week by this newspaper.

"This has been going on now for some years - you have cited an example on a United Kingdom broadcast programme in 2013 that happened to include me," she said.

"The fact that another situation has arisen four years later - almost to the day - clearly shows that the BBC hasn't got a control on this."

She added: "I would question why are they not making a whole lot more effort to weed out the potential for this happening."

Four years ago Ms James was at the centre of one of Question Time's most controversial episodes.

Amy Rutland was applauded on the programme for tearing into the then Ukip politician, who was standing as a candidate in the Eastleigh by-election.

She accused Ukip of preying on vulnerable people by "scaremongering" about immigration issues.

But it later emerged Ms Rutland worked as Labour's regional policy co-ordinator and had campaigned in the Eastleigh by-election, where Ukip finished second to the Lib Dems.

The incident bears similarities to this week's Alliance plot to "hijack" Radio Ulster's Talkback.

On Tuesday the Belfast Telegraph reported how the party's spin doctor encouraged members to ring the show with "softball" questions for Naomi Long.

Scott Jamison used a secret Facebook site to say members could "hijack" the phone-in.

He said: "We were pretty successful last year with hijacking the show with a series of callers and texters, so I'm looking to do the same again."

Mr Jamison encouraged party members to "feel free to use a fake name and location if you're so inclined".

Ms James said it was clear the BBC was still a soft target for political ambushes.

She added: "I believe it is - I have given up watching Question Time, for instance, because it's so blatantly obvious that the audience has been hijacked.

"Nobody has made sufficient effort to ensure that there is an audience that reflects truly the constituency or the area that the programme is located from, and I think a lot of people are switching off from political programming on that basis."

Ms James is now an independent Member of the European Parliament.

Last October she was elected Ukip leader, replacing Nigel Farage, but quit after just 18 days.

She later said it was because of an inability to break up the party's "old guard".

She believes the BBC is not alone in being targeted by political parties.

"I think it's happening more and more, both here in the United Kingdom and also in other countries with, let's say, key media outlets," she added.

"I think it's a situation where the political parties realise there is a weakness in terms of the audience selection and audience verification by the producers.

"And I'm not criticising just the BBC, I'm saying there are other programmes at fault as well."

The BBC noted the differences between radio phone-in shows where audience members call in on a random basis and audience-based TV programmes where there are selected audience members.

A spokesman said: "As we have said, our radio phone-in programmes regularly attract a high volume of callers who want to ask questions or share their views live on air.

"In line with our editorial and elections guidelines, which we take seriously, our production teams do their best to assess and identify each caller as rigorously as possible to ensure they contribute to a fair and balanced discussion, which our presenters chair live."

Referring to audience-based television programmes, he added: "In line with our editorial and elections guidelines, audiences are made up of a wide variety of members of the public, commentators, political parties and others to ensure a fair and balanced representation and a breadth and diversity of opinion.

"We have different types of audience-based television programmes during elections.

"Audiences for these programmes are researched - consistent with our need to ensure those taking part are reflective of different views and voting intentions."

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