BBC Trust dismisses Benita debate complaint

Londoners will elect a new Mayor in May. Photo: MayorWatch
The BBC Trust has dismissed a complaint by Independent Mayoral candidate Siobhan Benita about her non-inclusion in a BBC One TV debate.

Benita appealed to the Trust after the BBC’s executive ruled against including her in the debate which is to be broadcast on Sunday evening.

In recent weeks Ms Benita has claimed she is the victim of a “media blackout” despite her election website listing a number of articles in high profile media outlets.

She has been excluded from a number of hustings and debates which prioritise the four parties which have won London Assembly seats at each of the previous three City Hall elections.

Ahead of the Evening Standard’s recent debate she was joined by a group of around 20 protestors to demonstrate against her exclusion from the platform. She was allowed to ask a question from the floor.

The BBC’s election guidelines apportion coverage based on demonstrable levels of support at previous elections and current support.

A recent opinion poll suggested Benita had the support of 2% of voters however a previous poll placed her with less than one percent.

According to the BBC Trust’s published verdict “Ms Benita suggested that the BBC had incorrectly applied the Election Guidelines and Guidance” because in one poll she had scored as highly as Green party candidate Jenny Jones.

Benita also complained that “the BBC had not given sufficient weight to the other evidence of current electoral support that she had provided, including the bookmakers’ odds, support on Twitter, and coverage in the press.”

Her supporters say that as a first time Independent candidate she is unable to show past electoral support.

In its finding the Trust ruled that “the Guidelines and Guidance addressed the position of such candidates by allowing the Executive to also consider current electoral support by referring both to “past or current” electoral support and to political circumstances and editorial judgement, and considered that it was entirely within the discretion of the Executive to place due weight on current electoral support and political circumstances, and apply editorial judgement.”

Dismissing the complaint the Trust decided “that the requirement under the Guidelines and Guidance was to ensure that the BBC provided a minimum level of coverage, and it considered that the decision to invite Ms Benita to participate in a pre-recorded element of the TV debate was proportionate and consistent with that requirement.”

Candidates for Mayor include Jenny Jones (Green party), Ken Livingstone (Labour), Lawrence Webb (UKIP) Boris Johnson (Conservative) and Brian Paddick (Liberal Democrat). A full list of candidates can be found here.

Candidates standing as London Assembly constituency members can be found here. Candidates for the 11 Assembly London-wide seats can be found here.

Comments

  1. Damian Hockney says

    The real point here is that the BBC Guidelines themselves are anti-democratic and when linked with the bar on candidates sending out even one letter to their constituents represent the suppression of the ability to actually campaign. When you hand copies of the BBC guidelines to audiences and campaign teams in the USA and Canada and draw their attention to the terminology, they see very clearly that they are designed to suppress political alternatives. In this election, of course, the Greens have been handed “state favoured” status, which in practice means that for every hour they receive of tv branding by state radio and television, a party like UKIP (ahead of the Greens in the polls but opposed by the BBC) is given 30 seconds. And of course the BBC had made clear that it will not maintain or provide records of the outrageous lack of balance in its actual coverage. The guidelines are now discredited, even if they have been followed.

  2. says

    “bookmakers’ odds, support on Twitter, and coverage in the press.” – sorry but that actually did make me “LOL”.

    Lembit Opik got a double page spread in the Standard when he was running for LibDem candidate but ended up with less votes (252) that AM Mike Tuffey (1232) and ex-Haringey councillor Brian Haley (316) both of who received somewhat less publicity. Support can not be judged by media attention and Twitter; as for bookies where to start……..

    If Ms. Benita is serious about entering politics she should try aiming a little lower and stand as an independent for her ward at the next council elections, I am reasonably sure that she would be guaranteed receiving as much TV coverage as her opponents.

    And now here’s a word from D. Hockney……..

  3. Damian Hockney says

    As if I would let you down, Aslef shrugged. And yes, of course there are difference between candidates and their actual news value. But the real problem of course is that there are “editorial guidelines” which are so open to corruption that, in advance, they fix an hour of tame advertorial coverage for one candidate on 2% and fix in advance 30 seconds for another on the same polling figures on the day the rules were fixed (“by chance” a candidate against whom the BBC campaigns).

    The whole point is that these guidelines are therefore not about news and what someone is “worth”. They are about putting vast amounts of planned media advertising for “state approved” candidates into the public arena and actively barring others from even being allowed to send out just one letter to potential constituents. The rules are wildly disproportionate and anti-democratic, with millions of pounds worth of free advertising for one lot and draconian restrictions for others.

    If you are not allowed to use those ‘LOL’ campaigning methods that you can use or write to your constituents, then there is nothing at all you can do – why not just actually bar candidates from standing? Because they are barred from standing and campaigning.

  4. Tacitly insolvable says

    @AslefShrugged

    “If Ms. Benita is serious about entering politics she should try aiming a little lower and stand as an independent for her ward at the next council elections”

    You do realise you’re now supporting the elitist political class divide? Please don’t do that – I know you wouldn’t want to.

    How much experience in running anything (other than a sitting candidate in a safe Tory seat in Hendon) did Boris have before he was allowed to ‘aim as high as London Mayor’

    Nothing will ever change until the hold of the big 3 is broken – I sincerely hope that Bradford west was just a warm up and the people of London might actually put the fear of God into the complacent big 3 with an unexpected result.

  5. Damian Hockney says

    It was Henley (outside of London) not Hendon, Tacitly insolvable, but your argument is right. I agree with you entirely and I think Aslefshrugged makes a point which is understandable but ultimately plays into the hands of the political class. They have all the cards stacked in their favour and want no possibility that anything can go wrong for them. The real point remains that if you are standing for election, state radio and tv should not be in a position to plan in advance that you will be barred from the tv screens for the duration of the campaign (in all except meaningless pre-;planned tiny slots.

    I was the leader of a group of two members of the London Assembly in 2008, had appeared frequently (when it suited the BBC) on their programmes but then they told me I would be barred from meaningful tv because I was the “wrong class” of candidate. They pick and choose whoever they want to appear based upon their own concerns, and are essentially too close to their masters now: it worries me a lot for democracy that people appear lukewarm when told, for example, that three candidates for London Mayor are barred even from writing a letter to their constituents and barred in advance from “news” coverage to help the political elite consolidate its hold at a time when people have little but contempt for most of them..

  6. Damian Hockney says

    …the ‘old cracked record’, or ‘terrier with rat between its teeth’ you were too polite to mention…

  7. says

    In 1964 98.7% voted for the three main parties and between them they held all the seats in Parliament, in 2010 it was 88% with 29 seats held by others. Change does happen, it just doesn’t happen quickly.

    Labour rose from nothing, the Scottish and Welsh nationalists have risen to the point where they are pushing for their ultimate goal of devolution while more recently the Greens took 20 years to win a seat in Westminster.

    Then there are the Liberals, one of the supposed big three for decades they were a political insignificance, at times reduced to half a dozen seats but since teaming up with and then merging with the SDP they’ve steadily recovered to the point where they hold the balance of power.

    As far as local politics go Doncaster chose an English Democrat as it’s first elected mayor while the Greens run Brighton.

    Prior to becoming Mayor Boris had served on the Tory front bench but more importantly he was well known to the public unlike Steven Norris who actually held a ministerial post but was reasonably anonymous. No amount of TV coverage is going to change the fact that the minor parties receive little support at present and the candidates they’ve chosen (along with the indy) have no existing public profile.

    To be honest I don’t think there would be much point giving the minor candidates airtime, after a quick perusal of the leaflet that dropped through my door it would appear half the things they say they will do if elected are unachievable as they fall outside the remit of the Mayor and GLA.

    5% VAT on beer and cider? I do beleive that’s George Osborne’s decision, isn’t it?

  8. Damian Hockney says

    Aslefshuggged, agree entirely that the candidates raise issues over which the Mayor has no power – of course as you know VAT is an EU competence. UK governments can only change VAT rates if the EU gives its permission (and it always demands something in return for doing so, usually a further piece of control over member states’ economies or decision making process as part of the deal). So George Osborne is barred by law from altering the VAT rate unless he gets permission.

    So yes it is absurd, for example, that UKIP in its manifesto has put in bits about reducing VAT. And doubly absurd that that party, if it wishes to make the point about the need for that, does not explain clearly that even the UK government cannot do anything about it without EU say-so. But of course if you think that this approach should put an end to the rights of candidates to campaign, then you are calling for all four of the “main” candidates to be barred from campaigning as well – every single candidate has spoken as often about things that the London Mayor cannot do or implement as they have talked about the things they can. This is, ironically, usually at the insistence of tv journalists who either do not know what they are talking about or are doing it on purpose.

    From memory, Ms Benita pointed out, on one occasion, that one of her tiny interview slots was taken up by the interviewer banging on about “immigration”. Another competence of the EU with some input from the member states – but nothing to do with devolved “government” in London (of course).

    And I go back to the main point – should candidates really be barred in advance from coverage in news, or reference in tv coverage, and barred by law from writing a letter of their own to their constituents? All the while candidates either below them in polls or similar and viewed favourably by the BBC, obtain a colossal windfall of millions of pounds worth of tv advertorial and branding by the BBC? It’s running at 30 seconds for Ms Benita and UKIP against every hour for the Greens…

  9. Ronald Duncan says

    I would have been very interesting if they had given her air time.

    She would almost definitely have come 3rd, and might have actually challenged the big 2.