Monday, February 04, 2008

UPDATED: The BBC Write Me An Email

Well now. Last week's question time didn't have a lovely Lib Dem on it. It did have two dreadful Tories on it (Ken Clarke, Amanda Platell), and two people from the world of the stage (Bonnie Greer, John Sessions). I thought this odd, especially since it's not the first Question Time in the last couple of weeks to give the Tories effectively two representatives on the panel. So, taking Steven Tall's advice, I wrote them an email. This one, in fact:
Tonight's question time featured Ken Clarke (a Conservative) and Amanda Platell (a former Conservative spin doctor, writer for the Daily Mail, and general right winger). It did not feature any representative of the Liberal Democrats.

This is not the only recent programme to allow a second Conservative on the panel: the 17-01-08 edition featured both Liam Fox and Louise Bagshawe (who, much as she might have been justified by her status as a writer, is a Tory PPC, and turned out to do little more than repeat the party line).

I do not remember having ever seen two Lib Dems (nor would I expect to), but why do they suffer this unfair treatment routinely by the programme's producers? I find it hard to believe that a Lib Dem MP could not be found to appear on the programme, in London of all places.
Thrillingly, they have sent me this lovely form letter in response:
Dear Mr Hinton

Thank you for your e-mail regarding 'Question Time' broadcast on 31 January.

I understand that you were annoyed that there was no representative from the Liberal Democrats on the programme.

If I can explain, 'Question Time' aims to represent a broad range of views but it cannot always do this while ensuring strict political balance each week. The panel usually consists of MPs from the main political parties, together with representatives from various organisations and newspaper columnists or editors. 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.

I would like to assure you that we have registered your comments on our audience log. This is the internal report of audience feedback which we compile daily for all programme makers and commissioning executives within the BBC, and also their senior management. It ensures that your points, and all other comments we receive, are circulated and considered across the BBC.

Thank you once again for contacting us.


Richard Carey,
BBC Complaints
Note how he has completely ignored the other half of my original concern, which was not simply "there was no Lib Dem on tonight", but also "aargh, watching too many Tories makes me sad".

UPDATE: James Graham suggests in the comments that we could demand their numbers. I had another idea: Since the website records the guests on the programme going back to November '06, I thought I'd just compile my own. I categorised each MP, Lord or PPC as Lab/Tory/LD, as well as the same divisions for journalists and other personalities. Where there is no obvious affiliation, I left them uncategorized. If you want to see the spreadsheet and edit it for yourself, go here. Anyway, the results look like this:

Funny sort of balance.


James Graham (Quaequam Blog!) said...

As they try to get a balance over the series as a whole, perhaps we should demand to see their figures?

B G said...

From that graph it looks like we're overrepresented on Question Time. As Andrew Stunell once put it, if parliament were a 66 seat council we would only have six seats on it. That's about the equivalent of Lib Dem representation on Barnet council. Let's not get carried away with our own importance.

James Graham (Quaequam Blog!) said...

Looking at those figures and doing a bit of number crunching of my own, I have to say it does look as if the Lib Dems are fairly represented overall. The problem appears to be a significant over-representation of Tory "commentators".

I would suggest you put that graph up on google docs and keep it updated.


Andy said...

Agreed, James, although I may write another post about this issue in general.

Anyway, I have done as you suggested and published the spreadsheet on Google Docs, and updated the link accordingly.

Peter Black said...

I had a similar response to this a few years ago so I wrote back and asked them when I could expect a programme with no Tories on it. They accused me of being flippant. As if!