The BBC trustees who, collectively, decided against allowing the Green Party of England & Wales to give a single national broadcast for the 2016 election despite winning over 1 million votes in 2015. Photo: from BBC Trust website.
BBC must give the Greens 2016 election broadcasts!
Rupert Read and Bennet Francis
29th March 2016
The Green Party is the only national party in Westminster to be denied a Party Political Broadcast by the BBC, write Bennet Francis and Rupert Read. The decision reveals a massive failure of impartiality against which there is no right of independent appeal - save to the court of public opinion.
The BBC has declared it will give the Green Party no airtime whatsoever. Flying in the face of the standards established last year, they have decided that the Greens will be the only national Party in Parliament to be denied a voice on our screens.
In the run-up to the General Election last year, it looked like the Green Party would be shut out of the televised debates.
After a fantastic grassroots campaign online, both ITV and the BBC bowed to popular demand and made the decision to give Green Party Leader Natalie Bennett a place on the rostrum.
The result was spectacular: the tag team of Bennett, the SNP's Nicola Sturgeon and Plaid Cymru's Leanne Wood were together seen by many as the winners of the debates (though Sturgeon was certainly the individual winner).
The humanity of the three straight-talking women made Cameron, Clegg, Miliband and Farage seem even more alien and out of touch, and inspired voters to believe an alternative was possible.
In 2013, the Green Party's membership stood at 13,000; after the election, it was in excess of 60,000, making it the third-largest party in England and Wales. The Green Surge was rightly hailed as a landmark in British Politics, and it seemed the Greens had won their place as a permanent feature of the political landscape.
As the world moves forward the BBC moves backward
We are now approaching the mayoral, London Assembly, local council, PCC, Scottish Parliament, Northern Ireland Assembly and Welsh Assembly elections in May - most of these elections being proportional representation contests, in which the Greens stand a great chance.
To its credit Ofcom has announced that the Green Party will be entitled to a minimum number of Party Political Broadcasts (PPBs) on the commercial channels it regulates, reflecting the Greens' place as a well-established player. These are the broadcasts that take place three times a year outside election periods.
In a perplexing move, however, the BBC has recently declared it will give the Green Party no Party Political Broadcasts whatsoever. Flying in the face of the standards established last year, and those their rivals must follow, they have decided that the Greens will be the only national Party in Parliament to be denied a voice on our screens.
Last December, the BBC published the result of a consultation process into its criteria for allocating airtime for PPBs. On the current guidelines, to be eligible for a broadcast parties must hold at least one seat in a relevant parliament (including the European Parliament), and must "demonstrate substantial levels of past and current electoral support."
As the Greens have one MP, three MEPs (a number increased at the last election), and a great many local councillors all over the country, the Greens easily fulfil the first criterion. We can only assume, therefore, that the party was deemed not to measure up to the rather more nebulous second condition. But this judgment simply doesn't add up.
The BBC Trust has also blandly dismissed the Greens' appeal against the decision: "After careful examination of the evidence, Trustees found the BBC Executive had properly applied the Party Political Broadcast (PPB) allocation criteria when it determined the Party was not eligible for a broadcast on the BBC in England. The appeal was therefore not upheld."
The BBC has granted UKIP three PPBs, the Greens have none
UKIP and the Greens are both considered political outsiders, and both enjoyed their first major election success at the same time, winning seats in the European Parliament in 1999. Although the parties are poles apart politically, it is useful to compare them as a measure of the corporation's hypocrisy on the issue of PPBs.
The BBC's criteria mention past support. While both parties had their first MEPs elected together, Caroline Lucas has been in Westminster since 2010, while UKIP had their first MP elected only in 2014.
And while Lucas worked tirelessly for many years to build up the Green Party's support base, UKIP's Douglas Carswell merely crossed the floor from the Tory Party, managing to take his voters with him in the subsequent by-election.
And current support? In 2015, the Green Party gained over a million votes, increasing their vote share by nearly three percentage points. It will be pointed out that UKIP gained rather more votes than the Greens. Yet before the last election, UKIP's position was considerably stronger than it is today.
UKIP a lame duck?
Even then, Cameron's pledge of an EU referendum had taken much of the wind from their sails. Yet he had made the pledge precisely for this reason, and UKIP voters knew it - he was no Eurosceptic. UKIP could therefore convince supporters that Cameron couldn't be trusted to make good on his promise in a straightforward way.
Now, with June's impeding referendum casting a long shadow over the May elections, Eurosceptics are in no doubt they will have their vote, and soon. UKIP risks becoming an irrelevant lame duck.
After the election, it was reported the party was in financial meltdown as members left in their droves. Last week Suzanne Evans, one of UKIP's few semi-credible figures, was virtually drummed out of the party - incredibly, she has been suspended for 6 months from membership - amid massive internal divisions.
The Green Party's support base, meanwhile, is the product of years of careful work. Jenny Jones served the London Assembly since 2000, before being made a working Peer in 2013. Sian Berry, the party's candidate for London Mayor, one of the key battles to be fought in May, already holds elected office in London on Camden Council, and gained the backing of the Independent and Observer newspapers in her 2008 Mayoral Campaign.
The good news?
The success of the SNP at the last election showed the appetite for a more pluralistic politics, and their MPs have so far been a breath of fresh air at Westminster. In shutting out the Greens, the BBC has chosen once again to take a conservative stance, standing against this much-needed shift towards greater political diversity.
The good news is that last year, the efforts by broadcasters to exclude the Green Party backfired: it was one of the factors that led to its surge in membership. People were rightly outraged that alternative voices were not being heard, and ironically, the controversy created a platform that allowed the party to get its message across.
With your help, the BBC's backward failure to consider the Green point of view could backfire again this year.
Over 25,000 people have already signed the petition demanding the BBC fulfill its obligation of impartiality, and #InviteTheGreens to have Party Political Broadcasts. With the public on their side, the decision to shut out the Greens may again blow up in the Corporation's face - as our new video (see embed, above) argues.
Just as with the previous controversy, this is emphatically not just an issue for Green sympathisers: it's about creating the opportunity for a genuine debate that does not shy away from radical alternative views. It's about a proper debate at these important elections. It's about real freedom of speech.
And now another decision for the BBC is coming up - over the 2016 Party Election Broadcasts that come in the run-up to 5th May election day. The BBC has already published its criteria but the has yet to announce its decision, though provisional allocations suggest the Greens will get two election broadcasts in England and none in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland.
In Scotland, the Greens are poised to massively increase their numbers of MSPs. The Greens are on the NI Assembly already, and have their best ever chance of breaking through onto the Welsh Assembly. But all this might in effect be denied, by the BBC's perverse decision on Party Political Broadcasts, already made, and its likely decision on Party Election Broadcasts.
The BBC should quickly reconsider its position and avoid repeating its earlier mistake. Please help it to do so.
Petition: 'BBC: Don't shut out the Greens!'
Crowdfunder: 'Don't let them silence the Green Party!'
Rupert Read was Green Party candidate for Cambridge in the 2015 General Election.
Bennet Francis is an MPhil Research Student in Philosophy at University College London.
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