I fear that although great strides have been made by the BBC to ensure fairer coverage of our party (well done Cowley Street!) there is still a long way to go.
The reply I have received (and sent on to our Mediawatch is thus):
Thanks for your e-mail regarding ‘Woman’s Hour’ broadcast on 7 January.
I understand you felt the programme was politically biased as it contained
no ‘representative’ from the Liberal Democrat Party. I’ve since liaised
with the programme’s Senior Producer, Anne Peacock who explained:
“The discussion that launched the Winning Women’s Votes initiative on
Woman’s Hour was about what issues matter most to our listeners and how
they might be influenced to vote in the forthcoming election. In casting
the discussion, we took a decision not to invite on elected representatives
of the main parties in the interests of getting a broader range of views
and opinions. Of our guests, Iain Dale is a prominent blogger and
commentator, and as was stated on the programme supports the Conservative
party. However he does not ‘represent’ the party; as a commentator he is
freely able to agree or disagree with Conservative party policy. Seema
Malhotra set up and runs the Fabian Women’s network which is affiliated to
the Labour party. This is a voluntary network. She has not been elected to
represent the party, and was not on Woman’s Hour as Labour’s
‘representative’. The discussion ranged around the issues that might
influence how women vote and did not focus exclusively on the agenda of the
two main parties; Jenni Murray raised with them the commitment of Liberal
Democrat leader Nick Clegg to shared parental leave. Ceri Goddard of the
Fawcett Society was able to shed light on how women have voted in the past
and what election issues are likely to motivate them.
There is a place for elected representatives on Woman’s Hour as part of the
Winning Women’s Votes initiative – the leaders of the three main parties
have each been invited to take part in an in-depth interview during the
I trust this explains the context of the piece and thanks again for taking
the time to contact the BBC.
What does that tell you of the attitudes of the BBC? First, the following phrase:
Jenni Murray raised with them the commitment of Liberal
Democrat leader Nick Clegg to shared parental leave.
Oh, that’s so good of Woman’s Hour. What are we supposed to do – bow down at their feet? It does beg the question though that Jenni felt she had to do that – why? because the conversation HAD strayed on to policy and not just about how women had voted in times past. How can you divorce one from the other and have a meaningful conversation? Anyone that doesn’t understand that doesn’t understand the political system.
Another thing – what was the point in NOT having a Lib-Dem aligned person – surely it’s better for a Lib Dem to make this point? There could have easily have been four guests with perhaps Baroness Williams, Ros Scott, Mark Littlewood or someone from Centre Forum taking up the fourth slot. After all none of these are elected to public office yet like the other two guests hold a party membership card.
The BBC is finding loopholes to get around balance so that they can say the party was represented when the EFFECT of the airtime is diminished.
First, the policy should be that if a presenter has to mention Lib Dem policy then they should HAVE a Lib Dem `peer` of the other two parties whether or not publicly elected as a Lib Dem. Although it’ s nice to be recognised we don’t want others speaking for us. (you’d think that Woman’s Hour with its views on empowerment would know that)
Second, they should ensure that conversations don’t stray into overtly political territory (by which I mean talking about parties and policies) WITHOUT THREE talking heads.
Third, stop using the device of academics and experts holding a nominally Labour Govt view against one with a nominally Conservative opposition view so as to get around the balance problem. This happened on Today in the past few days.
Don’t think I haven’t noticed!
The guidelines at the BBC should be thus:
1. If a completely neutral alien from outer space were to listen/watch would they be able to discern at least THREE narratives – if they are available then all THREE should be heard
2. Desist from using `experts` that are aligned in their views to the two red/blue parties – or put an intellectual case for both parties as a way of introducing `balance`. It’s NOT balance – it’s bias as it doesn’t use three narratives.
3. Don’t sideline the Lib Dems on the bread and butter issues – for example, there’s the use sometimes of the Lib Dems to be invited on to talk about PROCESS (electoral reform or history of the Lib/Lab pact) when other parties talk about POLICY. It should be a rule that these two things are divorced from each other. Balance should be monitored on BOTH process and policy questions as a rule of thumb. How many times do we have to hear people go on about `who will you go to bed with?` when it’ s not addressed to the other parties?