Broadcasters agree terms for election debates – with some caveats

BBC, ITV and Sky have reach an agreement on how the televised Prime Ministerial debates during the election campaign will be run.

The three programmes will feature a “pre-determined theme” for half of their airtime, says a release from the BBC, and the debates will be broadcast live in mid-evening weekday slots. Members of the audience will be allowed to ask questions and viewers will be invited to submit questions in advance by email.

The full BBC release is at this link…

But at a event last night on the role of new media in the election, BBC Today programme presenter and chair of the event Evan Davis explained some additional rules for the audience:

  • no clapping will be allowed
  • there will be no cutaways back to individual audience members after they have asked a question

Speaking on BBC Radio 5Live this morning, a BBC producer involved with setting up the debates said after audience questions had been taken the focus would be on the candidates interacting with one another. This would not involve interjections from the audience, he quickly told the interviewing presenter.

The full rules for the debates will be available online via each broadcaster’s website, says the release, but they haven’t been published just yet.

The planned restrictions led some in last night’s audience to question the value of the debates. But BBC political editor Nick Robinson, who was speaking as part of the panel, was quick to respond:

“If we cannot be excited after 5-and-a-half decades about seeing the PM and politicians debate the issues, what more do you want?

There’s a cynicism about the rules here that is over the top. There are things you won’t get, but there are things you will get because they’ve ruled out the bear pit. They’ve ruled out the heckling and shouting. To get three guys to agree with this they had to set some rules. Would I trade what we have [PMQs] for four hours of our leaders debating on national TV you bet I would.

More to follow on last night’s event from…

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