Belfast Telegraph

We survived Alliance 'hijack' plot: BBC Talkback host William Crawley jokes after revelations of plan for fake callers to show

BBC Talkback host William Crawley joked that he and his BBC production team "survived" the Alliance plot to hijack his show and they "live to fight another day".

It comes after the Belfast Telegraph revealed messages were posted online from the Alliance Party director of communications urging supporters to call the show to ask tough questions of political opponents and "softball" questions of leader Naomi Long.

Previewing Tuesday's lunchtime show, which featured UUP leader Mike Nesbitt taking questions from noon, Mr Crawley said: "You don't have to be a press officer to call."

Introducing his show to the trademark strains of James Bond, Mr Crawley added: "I know some of you will be concerned after reading the front page of the Belfast Telegraph about the safety of the Talkback team after a reported attempt to hijack us.

"I just wanted you to know we are fine, it's ok, we survived the plot, we go on to fight another day."

Shirley Bassey's Goldfinger was then played as the first track of the day on the show.

During Mike Nesbitt's segment on the show a caller from the UUP's Portadown branch was allowed on the air to ask his party leader a question on political donations.

"You're not a fifth columnist?" Mr Nesbitt joked, "You're not black ops?"


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Alliance's top Press man Scott Jamison sent a series of directives to an inner circle of members - including Naomi Long, David Ford, Paula Bradshaw, Stephen Farry and Chris Lyttle - encouraging grassroots supporters to field "tricky" on-air questions to political opponents and "softballs" to their leader for the BBC Radio Ulster's series of election interviews.

He added if people were "stuck" for ideas, "we can email you a few".

Mr Jamison, head of communications for the party, sent the messages on a 'secret' Facebook group, and said Alliance was once again targeting BBC Radio Ulster's Talkback after it had done so successfully in last year's election while David Ford was leader.

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."

During last week's Talkback Mrs Long was asked about marriage equality, the party's position on the border, social housing and if she had unionist or nationalist "leanings".

In response to our front page story, BBC Northern Ireland 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, our production teams do their best to assess and identify each caller to ensure they contribute to a fair and balanced discussion which our presenters chair live."

The corporation's editorial Election Guidelines 2017 warn producers to "be alert to organised campaigns or lobbying by parties, pressure groups, candidates or people acting on their behalf".

The advice goes on to say that if "organised lobbying is suspected during the election period, contributors may be asked to provide contact details for verification purposes".

Belfast Telegraph Digital


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