Belfast Telegraph

BBC defends 'snub' to Northern Ireland parties in UK-wide TV debate

Debate on UTV before the General Election in 2017
Debate on UTV before the General Election in 2017

By Staff Reporter

The BBC has defended excluding Northern Ireland's two largest parties from a UK-wide election debate.

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The corporation has advertised that the seven major political parties in the UK will take part in the live broadcast event.

The Conservative, Labour, Liberal Democrat, Greens, Scottish National Party, Plaid Cymru and the Brexit Party are listed as participating in the debate on November 29, which will be broadcast from Cardiff on BBC One and BBC Radio Five live.

A BBC spokesperson last night defended the decision not to invite local parties to take part.

"Voters in Northern Ireland still have a different choice to make than elsewhere in the UK," she said.

"The DUP have had a prominent role at Westminster recently - but when it comes to the actual ballot paper, they are competing not with Conservative, Labour, Liberal Democrats, but primarily with Sinn Fein, the Ulster Unionist Party, the SDLP and the Alliance Party.

"While they are all contesting seats for the same Parliament, it remains a distinct electoral set-up, which means the Northern Ireland parties should - and do - debate each other.

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"It wouldn't be fair for just one of them to get UK-wide prominence and including all of them would be disproportionate for the majority of viewers everywhere else in the UK."

A BBC Northern Ireland spokesperson said that the corporation would be hosting an NI Leaders' Debate on BBC One NI on Tuesday 10 December at 9pm.

The leaders of the main Northern Ireland parties would be invited to take part in the debate in front of a studio audience.

It will be chaired by presenter Noel Thompson and is also due to be broadcast on the BBC News channel.

It is understood that UTV will also host an election debate at an outside venue on Sunday, December 8. It will be hosted by presenter Marc Mallett and there will be no studio audience.

BBC Northern Ireland's flagship political programme The View is conducting one-to-one in-depth interviews with party leaders every Thursday night.

BBC Northern Ireland begins overnight election coverage with presenter Mark Carruthers live in studio from Broadcasting House.

He will be joined by Tara Mills presenting from the Titanic Exhibition Centre.

The Liberal Democrats and the SNP lost a High Court challenge earlier this week against ITV over its decision to exclude their party leaders from a televised election debate.

A head-to-head debate between Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn aired on Tuesday night and excluded other party leaders.

The Lib Dems and the SNP contested the broadcaster's decision at a hearing in London on Monday, arguing it was unlawful because it breached impartiality rules.

But two leading judges ruled the decision was not open to challenge in the courts and that the parties' only recourse was to complain to Ofcom.

Lord Justice Davis, sitting with Mr Justice Warby, said that, even if the court did have jurisdiction to deal with the case, the format of the debates was a matter of "editorial judgment" and there was "no arguable breach of the Broadcasting Code".

He added: "The clear conclusion of both members of this court is that, viewed overall, these claims are not realistically arguable."

ITV lawyers had told the court that the debate - and an interview with Lib Dem leader Jo Swinson due to follow it - would have been pulled from its schedule altogether if the judges had found ITV breached its duties under the code.

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