I have received a response from the BBC to my complaint. Before I opened it I thought ‘ooh, that’s prompt,’ but having read it I can see why that is; because it’s basically a copy and paste job that doesn’t actually answer my complaint in any way.
Here’s my original complaint:
I am writing to complain that your coverage of UKIP is entirely unbalanced, and driven entirely by a narrative that you wish to push, rather than by the facts. UKIP are not as yet a political party with any sway, and certainly with no more influence than the Green Party, yet you cover them with the same zeal and fervour that you do the main three parties, whilst ignoring the other smaller parties.
Where was your coverage of the Green Party conference? I don’t recall it getting mentioned in any of your TV or radio bulletins, and yet the UKIP party conference led the news reports. At the time of the conferences, the Greens were the only party of the two with a sitting MP, so why the publicity of one over the other?
Your organisation’s desire to have a political narrative that will engage viewers, readers and listeners with a ‘juicy story’ is having a huge impact on the political landscape, and quite contrary to the BBC’s principles of impartiality. Please can you address this and redress the coverage shown to this party and give it the status commensurate with its actual position in the political landscape.
Here’s the BBC’s response:
Dear Mr Stephenson
Thank you for contacting us about the proposed format for the 2015 General Election debates. We have received a wide range of feedback from supporters of different political parties across the UK. In order to use our TV licence fee resources efficiently, this response aims to answer the key concerns, but we apologise in advance if it doesn’t address your specific points in the manner you would prefer.
The BBC is working with other broadcasters to try and make election debates happen in 2015 and we believe we have set out a fair and realistic formula. Twenty two million people saw some of the debates in 2010. They were very successful in engaging the electorate, especially first time voters and the broadcasters would like them to happen again at next year’s general election. We are also putting forward our own proposals for other debates across the UK.
Ensuring impartiality during an election campaign is a priority and judgements about debates, and other programmes, are taken on the basis of objective editorial assessments of a number of factors, including the levels of past and current electoral support for each party.
Although UKIP did not win a seat in the 2010 general election, they polled more than three times as many votes as the Green Party, which did win a seat. In the 2014 European elections, UKIP topped the poll, beating all the Westminster parties in terms of seats (24) and share of the vote (more than 27% – up more than 10% on 2009).
The Greens won three seats in the European election, with just under 8% of the vote (a small drop since 2009).
UKIP have also performed strongly in local government elections in England for the past two years and have more councillors than the Greens. Before their victory in Clacton, UKIP had come second in every Westminster by-election for the last two years – the Greens’ best performance was around 4%.
We also take account of opinion polls, when there is a robust and consistent trend: UKIP have been regularly polling in the mid-teens for more than two years, well ahead, for instance, of the Liberal Democrats and around 10 percentage points ahead of the Greens.
In Scotland, the BBC is proposing a debate, in peak time on BBC One, involving the leaders of the SNP, Scottish Labour, the Scottish Conservative and Scottish Liberal Democrat parties. We are proposing a similar format of debate on BBC One from Wales, involving the leaders of Plaid Cymru, Labour, the Conservatives, the Liberal Democrats and UKIP. We have written to the parties to begin discussions about our proposals and we will ensure impartiality during the Election in Scotland and Wales. Full details of our content will be released over the coming months once they are finalised.
We hope this goes some way in addressing your concerns, thanks again for taking the time to contact us.
So, I wrote a complaint about news coverage of UKIP and got a pro-forma response about the debates. Nice to see it was taken so seriously. Quite aside from the facts quoted within their response being somewhat selective in their use in order to justify their narrative, I still maintain that UKIP’s polling position is inflated largely off the back of the huge boost in coverage, which makes their justifications a bit chicken and egg. That was the point I was trying to make in my original complaint.
Which they ignored.
There’s nothing in their email either about going back to them to give feedback to their response, so if I want to challenge it I’d have to send another complaint, referencing the first one.
Or, I could just bitch about it on the internet. Yeah, I’ll just do that.