Guardian, Telegraph and YouTube launch bid to host general election leaders debate

The Guardian and Telegraph have teamed up with YouTube to propose that a party leaders debate is hosted on the internet in the build-up to next year's general election.

The media organisations have told David Cameron, Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg (pictured, right to left: Reuters) the plan would help engage the public in a more interactive way than the TV debates held before the 2010 contest.

The debate would also not be covered by the strict rules on impartiality which govern traditional broadcasters so could be more flexible in its format, the organisations claimed.

Jason Seiken, Telegraph Media Group editor-in-chief, said: "The power of digital media comes in its ability to connect our leaders and the public in a two-way conversation.

"It appeals to millions who have not previously bothered to engage in the political process.

"This historic collaboration to create an online debate hub is in the best traditions of the Telegraph – it puts the big arguments before the public on the most accessible platform and lets the voters decide."

Guardian editor-in-chief Alan Rusbridger said: "The digital world has become an increasingly vital democratic tool and forum for debate, and it's imperative that politicians understand and embrace the opportunities afforded to them by it.

"Open, digital-first journalism that holds power to account lies at the heart of The Guardian's mission, which is why we believe the proposed partnership between us, the Telegraph and YouTube is such an important and exciting next step in the changing relationship between politicians and the electorate"

Former BBC journalist Peter Barron, a spokesman for YouTube's parent company Google, said: "Given the way voters are consuming and engaging with news these days we think it's time for an online election debate.

"And this unprecedented partnership between YouTube, the Guardian and the Telegraph offers the perfect platform for it."

The consortium said the debate would be hosted by a female moderator, days after a Lords committee criticised the way the 2010 debates were chaired by three white men.

A BBC spokeswoman said: "The BBC, alongside the other broadcasters, is firmly committed to holding the debates.

"This week's Lords Communications Committee report said the debates served the public interest by increasing engagement with the electoral process and perhaps contributing to a higher voter turnout.

"Indeed in 2010 the total of the three audiences was above 22 million, providing an accessible platform to see potential prime ministers, moderated by trusted, impartial, authoritative broadcasters, reaching people who would not normally perhaps have become engaged in the election, particularly first time voters and younger audiences.

"The broadcasters have said that although the 2010 format worked well, they would explore other ways of presenting the debates in 2015".

The Lords Communication Committee report on broadcast general election debates published earlier this week played down the prospect of an online debate.

The peers acknowledged "it certainly seems likely that there will be an ever greater role for online media as a complement to the experience of viewing broadcast debates, for example for those viewers engaging with a second screen".

Their report noted that "a debate hosted entirely online would side-step the broadcasting framework and… safeguards" and said a precedent could be found in Sweden, where the newspaper Aftonbladet was due to host a web-based political showdown ahead of that country's election in September.

"However, it is important to recognise that on current behavioural trends, at least in the UK, going exclusively online would be likely to result in the failure to reach a large live audience," the peers said.

"As an example, Felix Baumgartner's record-breaking skydive in 2012 attracted a reported eight million viewers of its live stream on YouTube worldwide.

"Live streams of the 2012 Olympics peaked at 'more than half a million'.

"In short, neither top-flight athletics nor an audacious supersonic skydiver, leaping from a capsule at 128,100ft (24 miles; 39 km) above New Mexico have succeeded in gaining worldwide the live audience which broadcast Prime Ministerial debates have achieved in the UK.

"Accordingly, it seems likely that the attractiveness to party leaders and their strategists of an exclusively online debate would remain low, at least for now."

Shadow Cabinet Office minister Michael Dugher said: "We have always said we support the successful format of debates at the last election: three debates between the three leaders of the three main parties.

"The 2010 debates were a vital innovation which saw 20 million people engage in the election and are a feature that cannot be lost, but we will always support exploring ideas on how they can be made more innovative still.

"Digital is already a major part of Labour's campaigning, we are open to new ideas and new thinking.

"David Cameron now needs to come out of hiding on this issue and immediately start negotiations with broadcasters, as we have repeatedly called for.

"Debates are a way of communicating with millions of people on the biggest job in the country. It's time for David Cameron to stopping dragging his feet and get on with the negotiations."

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