Ofcom reject Reform UK complaint over exclusion from main BBC Senedd debate
Broadcasting regulator Ofcom have not upheld a complaint that Abolish the Assembly were included in the ‘top tier’ BBC Senedd election debate while Reform UK were relegated to the second section.
Reform UK had said that the BBC was wrong to relegate them to the second part of the programme featuring minor parties UKIP and the Greens.
Meanwhile, the leader of another political party, Abolish the Welsh Assembly Party, participated in the main debate alongside Labour, the Conservatives, Plaid Cymru and the Liberal Democrats in the first segment of the programme.
However, Ofcom said that due to both sections having a similar structure and covering similar topics, they were satisfied with the BBC’s handling of the debate and did not uphold the complaint.
In response to the complaint, the BBC told Ofcom said that it has taken account of past and current voting intentions.
On the basis of its assessment, it said that in its editorial judgment, having one 90-minute programme with two panels (split between five and three parties) was the best way to achieve impartiality, reflect past and current electoral support, and enable the BBC to properly explore and challenge each party’s campaign and policy objectives.
The BBC argued that it had “a wide margin of discretion in exercising its judgement, given the specialist area in which that judgement has been exercised and the expertise of the BBC in the field”.
In relation to its decision to include Abolish the Welsh Assembly Party in the first debate of the Programme, the BBC said that this was based on a combination of:
- The fact that AWAP achieved 4.4% of the vote on the regional lists in the 2016 Welsh Assembly elections (the previous directly comparable election);
- An evaluation of current electoral support, especially the recent trend of support evident in the opinion polls. On the the two most recent YouGov polls on voting preference for the regional list outlined by Ofcom, Abolish had outperformed Reform UK, they said.
- The fact that AWAP was expected to field a full list of regional candidates and a large number of constituency candidates;
- It was publicly predicted by experts in the field to win a number of Senedd seats.
In its response, Ofcom said that it placed greater weight on the actual performance of a political party in elections than on opinion poll data, because this is a measure of how voters have actually exercised their democratic choice compared to the uncertainty associated with opinion polls.
However, while they took into account Reform UK’s performance in the 2019 election for the European Parliament, when it won 32% of the
vote in Wales, Ofcom said that this was a different type of election than the election for the Senedd, and that it took place within a particular political context, namely the UK’s exit from the European Union. Also, Reform UK’s share of the Welsh vote in the General Election in December 2019 was significantly lower at 5.4%.
Ofcom referred to the two-panel format of the programme and the fact that both debates were held within the same programme. The Committee also noted that both sections had a similar structure and covered similar topics during each debate.
In considering the format of the programme as a whole, the Ofcom committee concluded that: the inclusion of both debates within the Programme; the similar treatment of both debates within the Programme in terms of structure, topics and time of broadcast; and the fact that each party involved in the Programme had a similar opportunity to contribute, thereby afforded fair treatment to each of the parties involved, including the Complainant.