SNP's legal challenge to BBC leaders' debate continues

A legal battle between the Scottish National Party and BBC over the final prime ministerial debate will continue today.

The Scottish Nationalists are furious at being excluded from the live TV clashes and yesterday mounted a last-ditch legal challenge ahead of tomorrow night’s live debate in Birmingham.

SNP leaders lodged papers at the Court of Session in Edinburgh contesting the BBC’s decision not to include them.

The papers state that the party is seeking an interim interdict against the BBC broadcasting the third leaders’ debate in Scotland if it does not feature the SNP. Leaders’ debates have already been held on ITV and Sky.

The legal challenge to the public service broadcaster comes just days after the BBC Trust rejected an appeal by the Scottish Nationalists and Plaid Cymru in Wales, challenging their exclusion from the debate.

The SNP raised £50,000 to fund the court action, and papers lodged by the party state that media coverage of the debates has been “without parallel in the history of UK General Elections”.

They argued: “The impact of the previous two debates on the media coverage of the General Election campaign as a whole has been demonstrably the single largest factor in the current UK General Election campaign in terms of the impact on the media profile, approval ratings of party leaders and overall voting intention as represented in opinion polling.

“The exclusion of the petitioners from those debates in so far as viewers of the debate in Scotland are concerned, cannot satisfy the requirement of ‘due impartiality’.”

They go on to note that the inclusion of Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg in the previous two debates has “greatly improved” his party’s fortunes in the polls.

However the BBC argued yesterday that the SNP’s demands were “impractical” and “ultimately pointless”.

Lawyer Gerry Moynihan, QC, said it was “completely contrary” to the public interest.

He argued that the SNP had failed to take into account that, as well as being shown on BBC1, the debate will also be broadcast on the radio, the internet and Sky.

The QC told the court the Nationalists had a “considerable problem” in relation to the timing of the action, claiming they had “stood idly by” when the two earlier debates were held.

The UK Independence Party has also threatened legal action if the BBC does not allow it to take part in the programme.

Party leader Lord Pearson of Rannoch has written to BBC Director-General Mark Thompson, arguing that the corporation is breaching its election coverage guidelines by refusing to allow Ukip equal footing with Labour, Tories and the Liberal Democrats.

And he said that, if the BBC did not change its mind, Ukip would apply to the courts for a judicial review of the decision and for an injunction in order to allow it to take part in the show.

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