QT's pro-Tory bias: the BBC replies to Lib Dem Voice

by Stephen Tall on March 13, 2008

Its a month since Lib Dem Voice found that the BBC’s Question Time is “officially pro-Tory”, with considerably more Conservative-aligned panellists than Labour, let alone the Lib Dems. (We even produced the obligatory bar-chart as conclusive proof.) As promised, we emailed the BBC with the link to our story, and have today received their reply:

Dear Mr Tall

Thank you for your e-mail and I’d like to start by apologising for the time it has taken to get back to you. I hope you haven’t been inconvenienced.

Turning to your concerns I did raise the issue with the programme’s editor who has asked me to pass on the following response which I hope reassures you:

It’s clearly very difficult to give a detailed analysis of the bar chart without knowing precisely how they categorised each panellist. A “declared supporter of the party” need not necessarily toe the party line, as Tony Benn, Bob Marshall-Andrews, Lord Tebbit and others have long shown, so a tick-box approach is not always an accurate reflection of balance within a panel.

“Naturally party affiliation is a consideration, but a strict tagging of guests as members of this or that party is not a particularly fruitful exercise. Affiliation is only one of many factors the production team takes into account. Our primary goal is to offer viewers balanced, interesting and engaging political debate, with a combination of established and new speakers reflecting a breadth of opinions across a variety of newsworthy topics. That can occasionally mean two supporters of the same party appearing on the same panel – for instance Sarah Teather and Greg Dyke, or Charles Kennedy and Germaine Greer. Nevertheless across the run of a series we aim to achieve a reasonable range (though not a precise statistical equivalence) of political views.

To be clear, political balance is not the same as party political balance. The automatic weekly inclusion of a Lab/Lib Dem/Conservative representative may be deemed “fair” from a party perspective but – by the nature of their stances – it immediately tips the debate’s political centre of gravity. To achieve a broad spectrum of political opinion is thus not as simple as
instigating a rigid party formula (whether 5:5:4 or otherwise). I do think the Lib Dem Voice’s own users’ responses to the bar chart exercise make for interesting reading.”

Thank you again for contacting the BBC.

Yours sincerely

Stewart McCullough
Complaints Coordinator
BBC Complaints

Well, fair dos to the Beeb for penning more than a standard response (though the details of classification were made publicly available). It’s certainly true that political balance is not simply determined by party classification; but nor can it be ignored. And its a bit cheeky of the BBC to suggest they only “occasionally” feature two supporters of the same party when the original interest in all this was sparked by QT featuring two declared Tories on the panel for four consecutive weeks.

Anyway, the point has been made. Let’s see what happens in the future…