Tommy Sheppard

MP for Edinburgh East

Let's regulate televised political debates

tv-debate

You may remember that before Christmas there was talk of a UK wide TV debate on Brexit. In the end it didn’t happen because Labour and Tory party bosses couldn’t agree on a format. It’s probably just as well. At the time SNP demands to be included fell on deaf ears. It looked as if we might have the rather ridiculous charade of Teresa May and Jeremy Corbyn arguing over what kind of Brexit they wanted, with no-one at all putting the case against - a view which is now probably the majority one across the UK.

But the debacle over that debate has fuelled discussion about how political TV debates should be organised. This week parliament debated a proposal for an independent commission to put this whole business on a statutory footing. This is something I support and whilst we are in something of a Brexit hiatus waiting for the government to lose the vote on its withdrawal agreement, I thought I’d explain why.

The question is not whether or not political debates will, or should, happen. Since Kennedy’s US presidential campaign in 1960, they have become entrenched in political campaigning in liberal democracies throughout the world. In the UK, they have featured at the last three general elections, although the 2017 decision by Theresa May to refuse to debate her opponents will go down as one of the many gaffes that led to the ignominious result for her party at that election.

The real question is who should set the rules. Should it be left to party political fixers horse trading proposals with broadcasters? Or is it now time to put this whole thing on a statutory basis?

Yes it is. The only way we can be sure that there’s a level playing field which is fair to all parties and puts the public first is to define it in law. An independent commission with its responsibilities enshrined in statute would be charged with making sure things are run fairly. And more to the point it would be open to challenge in law if they weren’t.

There are three immediate advantages to this. One, it would give a statutory right for all parties contesting the election to be allowed a say. And, yes, this includes UKIP and whole bunch of people I detest. Secondly, it takes the matter out of the hands of political parties, and, crucially, the government of the day – preventing the manipulation of timing and format for party advantage. And thirdly, it would allow a proper format to be established which gets beyond the Punch and Judy show of Westminster and allows party leaders to be interrogated by opponents and independent moderators.

Some say that this could trivialise serious political issues and treat politics as entertainment. Actually, the opposite is the case. If the broadcasters themselves are the only ones allowed to decide how these debates are presented then it is surely more likely that serious discussion will be compromised in the name of watchability.

There have been some plain daft arguments made by opponents of TV debates.  In Monday’s debate the government minister suggested that if we are going to have TV debates by law then should we not pass a law to make it compulsory to watch them! Others argue the state shouldn’t demand that broadcasters do things in a certain way.

Yet broadcasters must by law attempt to give equal coverage during elections. And they must by law show party political broadcasts without editorial interference. This would be a simple extension of the statutory obligations already placed upon broadcasters. And it would be one that would recognise the importance and increasing contribution of broadcast media to our political discourse. Bringing us at least into the 20th century, if not the 21st.

Next month, I’ll be back to Brexit. You know you can’t wait.

Written for Edinburgh Evening News - 10th January 2019. You can watch my speech from the debate here

Jeremy, It's Not Too Late To Change Your Mind And ...
Brexit Update - 11th Dec 18
 

Comments

No comments made yet. Be the first to submit a comment
Already Registered? Login Here
Guest
Friday, 29 May 2020

Captcha Image

By accepting you will be accessing a service provided by a third-party external to http://tommysheppardmp.scot/

Tommy's Blog Articles

Tommy Sheppard
26 March 2020
Tommys Blog
My constituency offices are closed but my team are working remotely in order to deal with casework.  The best way to get in touch is to email us at tommy.sheppard.mp@parliament.uk.  The current situation with COVID-19 means that I am experiencing a high volume of emails. You will receive a response however this may take longer than usual and my team and I are prioritising those with a sp...
Tommy Sheppard
18 March 2020
Tommys Blog

Time is running out for many of Edinburgh's small businesses. Today I've written to the Chancellor asking for additional emergency assistance for our hospitality sector through the COVID-19 epidemic.

 

Tommy Sheppard
02 March 2020
Tommys Blog
Media
 In Edinburgh in recent weeks, there have been a number of alarming incidents of racist violence. The only reason innocent people were attacked was the colour of their skin. Some victims have been subjects to months of abuse and intimidation. We know this because some of these incidents were reported to the police. What we do not know is how many are not reported....
Tommy Sheppard
31 January 2020
Tommys Blog
Media
Dear fellow Europeans I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. The UK is leaving the European Union later tonight. I’ve resisted it every step of the way but now it is really happening. Please know that this is not what the people who live in this great city want. Boris Johnson does not act in our name. We are being dragged out of Europe against our will. And we are determined that this will not be the end of the...
Tommy Sheppard
29 January 2020
Tommys Blog
With everything that goes on at Westminster it can be very easy to get caught up in the day to day minutiae of debates and votes. Sometimes we need a reminder of the bigger picture. I got that last week when I met with one of my constituents, Gica, who spent time volunteering in Samos last year.Gica volunteered with refugees and the situation she described is appalling. And worsening. The refugee ...