The so-called ‘leaders’ debate on BBC1 last night was a car crash of a programme that should never have been broadcast.
‘Balance’ was never going to be possible in a set-up involving five strident left-wing parties ranged against two from the ‘right’. Those at the Corporation paid substantial salaries to achieve ‘impartiality’, including the Director of News, James Harding, should have spotted this a mile away.
Further, despite anything that the BBC might say, the audience was seriously biased against Amber Rudd for the Conservatives and Paul Nuttall of Ukip. The Corporation afterwards claimed this was not their fault because they had sub-contracted the polling organisation ComRes to select the audience members on a ‘scientific’ basis.
Poppycock. The BBC are responsible for programmes that they broadcast and in a General Election the Corporation has a clearly-defined responsibility under both the Charter and electoral law to ensure balance.
The reality is that the make-up of audience was a first-order farce. Nothing the BBC broadcasts subsequently can ‘balance’ this, so gross was the problem.
This Cambridge mob was not just biased in its reactions throughout the 90 minutes but risibly so. Everything Jeremy Corbyn said was cheered to the rafters, whereas Rudd and Nuttall were subjected to catcalls. The camerawork (was that sub-contracted, too?) further exaggerated the problems by homing in on the negative reaction.
Returning to the intrinsic imbalance of the 5 ‘left’ to two ’right’ set-up, a major problem here was that the moderator, Radio 4 Today presenter Mishal Husain, was never equal to the task.
But there were deeper problems, that meant Husain’s basic failure of control was compounded. The result was that programme was shot through with basic unfairness.
Nowhere was this more risibly evident than in the handling of immigration. Put bluntly Paul Nuttall’s call for tougher controls was ganged up upon and shouted down by the SNP, Green, Plaid Cymru and Liberal Democrat panellists – who, like playground bullies, called him a racist.
There was nothing new about this. Those on the left such as Tim Farron and Caroline Lucas have been disgracefully and indiscriminately using the ‘R’ word against anyone who disagrees with uncontrolled immigration for decades.
But that is where the BBC failed at the most basic level in their duty as public service broadcasters. They should have foreseen such unfairness, and known it would be an inevitable outcome. The problem is that the British political system is no longer binary, and the majority of parties are now left-wing, so ‘debates’ like this simply cannot work.
Another point is that the BBC intrinsically does not care a stuff about right-wing opinion. For years it has been working to undermine and belittle the views of Ukip, and so in that mind-set, the latest twist last night was only par for the course.
Everybody who watched last night could see this blatant bias, but not the BBC itself. Its headlines yesterday morning did not mention the bias claims, but focused instead on that Theresa May had been shown to be a coward for not turning up.