Belfast Telegraph

BBC bosses accused of failing smaller parties

By Noel McAdam

BBC bosses have been accused of giving bigger parties an unfair broadcasting advantage by changing the corporation's election rules.

The Workers Party said the Beeb is effectively consolidating the dominance of the bigger parties and letting down voters.

The complaint came ahead of BBC NI's debate involving the leaders of the five main parties - DUP, Sinn Fein, Ulster Unionists, SDLP and Alliance - next Tuesday.

In a change to criteria, parties must now have a minimum of 12 candidates across six constituencies to qualify for a television or radio election broadcast.

Workers' Party candidate Lily Kerr said it "clearly disadvantages, and effectively disenfranchises, smaller parties in Northern Ireland".

"The BBC's decision consolidates their position at the expense of smaller parties, restricts the political discourse and reduces the information available to the electorate," she said.

Mrs Kerr, who is standing in South Belfast, added: "As Northern Ireland's public service broadcaster, the BBC has duty to provide a platform for the entire political spectrum - not just the larger parties."

In February, the BBC Executive proposed changes to the criteria for Northern Ireland so that a registered political party had to stand 18 candidates across a minimum of three constituencies - bringing the province into line with the rest of the UK.

But following submissions from parties and the Electoral Commission and following further consultation, the figure was changed to 12 across a minimum of six, rather than three, constituencies. A BBC statement said: "The amended proposal was sent to all relevant parties in Northern Ireland and no further comments were received."

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