BBC issues usual Question Time non-response

by Stephen Tall on February 18, 2010

Cast your mind back two weeks, and you may recall the BBC making a hash of selecting its panel for the weekly political discussion show Question Time.

In the week when the big political issues were the Iraq war, electoral reform and MPs’ expenses – on all of which the Lib Dems have a distinctive contribution to make – the BBC chose to stuff the panel with an official Labour representative (Lord Falconer), and two former Labour MPs (Clare Short and George Galloway); and, for balance, an official Tory representative (Theresa May), and professional right-wing agitpropette (Melanie Phillips).

Many Lib Dems were understandably annoyed by this, and some of us sent complaints to the BBC. I’ve just received the BBC’s response to my email, and it’s the usual copy ‘n’ paste non-response:

Thanks for your e-mail regarding the 4 February edition of ‘Question Time’.

We appreciate that you were unhappy that there was no representative from the Liberal Democrats on the panel.

We forwarded concerns on this issue to ‘Question Time’ Executive Editor Gavin Allen who explained in response that:

“The Liberal Democrats like all parties get representation based on their level of electoral support, which means they are on most – but not all – ‘Question Time’ panels across each series. We believe it adds to the breadth of debate to have perspectives from politicians and non-politicians alike, so places are always limited even within a five-person panel.”

He concluded by advising that:

“We constantly monitor the balance of the panel and in light of their national electoral strength, the level of representation for the Liberal Democrats on the programme remains very strong.”

We’d also like to assure you that we’ve registered your complaint on our audience log. This is a daily report of audience feedback that’s circulated to many BBC staff, including members of the BBC Executive Board, channel controllers and other senior managers.

The audience logs are seen as important documents that can help shape decisions about future programming and content.

Thanks again for taking the time to contact us.

The issue that I (and others) raised was not that the BBC deliberately excludes Lib Dems from the Question Time panel week-by-week – but that on two occasions now when it was certain the Iraq war would be a major topic of debate the BBC inexplicably decided not to include a representative from the only major party to have voted against the war.

It’s even more bizarre to see the BBC defend its panel selection choice on the grounds that “we believe it adds to the breadth of debate” when four of the five panellists supported the invasion of Iraq in March 2003.

The BBC cocked-up: it would be nice if they could admit it rather than issue bog-standard responses which fail to address the complaints made.