The 12 Op-Eds of Xmas (Day 4)

by Stephen Tall on December 28, 2008

Throughout the festive season, LDV is offering our readers a load of repeats another chance to read the 12 most popular opinion articles which have appeared on the blog since 1st January, 2008. Fourth up is this posting by, erm, me, which appeared on LDV on 12th February…

Official: BBC Question Time’s pro-Tory bias

Time to revisit BBC Question Time’s political balance… 10 days ago, you may recall, Andrew Hinton’s Mindrobber blog questioned the omission of a Lib Dem representative from the panel, following on from a Lib Dem Voice thread. Andrew crunched some figures, which suggested parity between the Tory and Labour parties, with a lower number of Lib Dem panellists.

This seemed to lend some reasonable plausiblity to the BBC’s defence that “The programmes try to achieve balance over a reasonable period and certainly have a firm commitment to political balance over their series as a whole.” It’s worth noting, however, that party election broadcasts – a good benchmark against which to judge political balance – are allocated on a 5:5:4 ratio between Labour, Conservative and Lib Dem. On this basis, Lib Dems are under-represented on QT.

But the omission of a Lib Dem wasn’t LDV’s main whinge – our gripe concerned the inclusion, for the fourth week in succession, of an unofficial Conservative representative on the panel alongside the official Tory representative. So we took a second look at the data.

Normally, when you measure political balance, you don’t just consider MPs and peers from a party, but also include its other declared supporters. So when measuring QT’s political balance, it is only reasonable to include in each party’s totals the other declared supporters of that party, particularly when these figures include people such as a former senior employee of a party or a party’s prospective general election candidate.

On the basis of the recognised 5:5:4 ratio, you would expect a split between Tories, Labour and Lib Dems of roughly 36%/36%/29%. But is that what we found? Nope. Question Time graph

As you can see from the graph, over 40% of QT panellists are Tories, either official or unofficial, compared with a little more than 20% for the Lib Dems.

Even if you disagree with our notion of an appropriate level of Lib Dem representation, it is hard to see how the BBC can justify such a sustained bias in favour of the Tories and against Labour.

We’ve emailed the BBC with the link to this story, and will look forward to seeing whether we get anything more than a standard response.