Boulton, Stewart and Dimbleby to chair election debates

The three journalists who are set to take on the party leaders in Britain’s first televised general election debates have been named.

Sky News, ITV and the BBC are to host one debate each with Adam Boulton, Alastair Stewart and David Dimbleby chairing each encounter respectively.

It was announced tonight that the leaders of the three main parties have agreed to terms for the series of three debates – which they had already agreed to in principle.

The broadcasters BBC, ITV and Sky said that under the terms of the deals they would each be hosting one debate during the campaign.

The programmes, lasting between 85 and 90 minutes, will be filmed in front of a selected studio audience and will be broadcast in peak time.

Previous attempts to arrange such debates have always foundered on the reluctance of one or other leaders to risk what they believe is a strong position by taking part.

Under the terms of the agreement Gordon Brown, David Cameron and Nick Clegg will appear in each of the debates which will all follow the same format, with around half of the discussion time being themed.

The order of the debates will be ITV, Sky then BBC.

The BBC and Sky will make their programmes available to other broadcasters simultaneously while ITV will make theirs available immediately after transmission.

Discussions between the broadcasters and the parties will resume in the New Year to finalise the detailed arrangements.

Cameron welcomed the agreement saying that the debates would be “a thoroughly good thing”.

“I have always believed in live television debates,” he said.

“I think that they can help enliven our democracy, I think they will help answer people’s questions, I think they will help crystallise the debate about the change that this country needs.

“In such a bad year for politics and Parliament, I think it is something we can proudly celebrate.”

Clegg said that he hoped the debates would help politicians to re-engage with the public and encourage a higher turnout at the ballot box.

“After a terrible year for politicians because of the expenses scandals, these debates will be an opportunity to start re-engaging people with politics,” he said.

“I hope an open, honest and vigorous debate will encourage more people to have their say at the ballot box.”

Meanwhile, Dimbleby said that he was looking forward to chairing the BBC’s debate.

“The discussions about this have been going on for so many years that I had given up hope of its ever happening,” he said.

“I’m delighted all three parties have now agreed and think it’s a good day for democracy.”

The broadcasters each said that they would be taking steps to see that other the other parties – including those in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – received proper coverage in line with their obligations for due impartiality.

The BBC said that it would be holding separate debates in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland among all the main parties, which would be broadcast on BBC Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and across the UK on the BBC News Channel.

Following the main leaders’ debate, all political parties which had significant levels of support at a national level would be offered opportunities across the BBC’s output to respond to the issues raised.

ITV said that it would observe its obligations of due impartiality in its electoral coverage and give airtime in other programming to the views of other parties as appropriate.

Sky News said that it intended to broadcast separate debates to be held in Scotland and Wales among the main parties in those nations.

Following Sky’s leaders debate, all political parties which have significant levels of support at a national level would be offered opportunities across Sky News’s output to respond.

Michael Jermey, ITV director of news, current affairs and sport, welcomed the agreement.

“For the first time in British history, viewers will be able to watch the politicians who aspire to lead the country debate face to face as the electorate decides who should form the next government,” he said.

“It’s not an exaggeration to say that the first debate will be an historic moment in both television and electoral history.”

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