BBC criticised for excluding Billy Fox from election hustings panel

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The BBC is in the firing line after excluding one of the candidates from the platform for its live election hustings in Shetland.

Independent candidate Billy Fox has been refused equal footing with his rivals from the four main political parties at the BBC Radio Shetland hustings, which will be the only broadcast during the election campaign to feature live debate between the Holyrood hopefuls.

Instead Mr Fox has been invited to sit among the audience for the event at the Shetland Museum on Friday 22nd April with nothing more than an assurance that he will “get an opportunity to contribute from the floor”.

Mr Fox said today he was “pretty disgusted” and “humiliated” by his treatment, branding it “very discriminatory”. He also accused the corporation of imposing a “one size fits all” policy more suited to urban areas down south where a string of “lunatic fringe” candidates standing in a ward did make it difficult to offer equal coverage.

But in the case of Shetland he said the policy simply pushed independent local candidates out of the debate, favouring the main parties.

He is currently considering how to react to the snub and may even decide not to take part in the programme under the BBC’s restrictions.

He raised the anomaly with local station boss John Johnston who passed it to BBC Scotland managers in Glasgow. They said only parties which could demonstrate “previous substantial electoral support” in a constituency could sit on such a programme’s platform.

Mr Fox said he had not been given any assurance, unofficial or otherwise, that he would be brought into the debate at regular points. He said his absence from the panel meant he would be at a disadvantage and also with his back to the audience in the museum.

“I’ve raised my concerns. I’ve had an official reply saying that the policy stands. I’m deliberating at the moment what course of action I’m going to take. I don’t think it’s very democratic. It’s quite humiliating.”

He has also been in touch with the independent candidate in Orkney who is facing the same discrimination in BBC Radio Orkney’s live hustings on 28th April. James Stockan, who is the vice-convener of Orkney Islands Council, has already said his own exclusion is “a great injustice”.

The pair’s exclusion is all the more controversial given that both are not just local but also prominent in political debate in their respective communities whereas some of the main parties’ candidates have never been heard of before and have scarcely set foot in the islands.

In the UK general election last year the UKIP candidate Robert Smith endured the same exclusion from the panel but took part in the hustings and got at least some airtime for his views.

However, he was not a serious contender for the Orkney and Shetland seat whereas Mr Fox is expected to gain a considerably larger share of the vote than the 6.3 percent polled by UKIP.

Mr Fox said: “There are two credible [independent] candidates standing, both in Orkney and in Shetland, and it does seem very unfair that they’re not going to get a fair crack of the whip because of BBC blanket policy nationwide.”

The BBC’s position on independent candidates contrasts with that of the organisers of the other two hustings being held in Shetland. All five candidates have been offered an equal chance to participate at the Althing in Tingwall on Saturday evening and in front of pupils at the Brae High School earlier on the day that the radio event is recorded.

In a statement the BBC said it tried to ensure its election coverage was fair and impartial: “We take into account a number of factors, including previous electoral support at similar elections, when deciding on our panels for any election debates we broadcast.

“In this instance the four main parties will be represented on the main panel but we have also invited the independent candidate to attend in the audience, which will allow him to participate in the debate.”

The BBC Radio Shetland hustings programme, chaired by Mark Inchley from the station, will be edited and broadcast on Monday 25th April, three days after the event.

Meanwhile, Mr Fox has welcomed a table top exercise simulating an oil well blowout to the west of Shetland which is to be held next month. However, he said such an exercise was no substitute for ensuring oil companies had the right systems in place to prevent such a blowout in the first place.

Liberal Democrat candidate Tavish Scott chose to focus on the SNP government’s decision to exclude businesses from the air discount scheme (ADS), which he said he would reverse.


Add Your Comment
  • M F (Andy) Anderson

    • April 11th, 2011 17:21

    I think it is disgusting that Billy Fox has been excluded from the BBC radio hustings at the Museum.The other candidates should refuse to participate until he is allowed to fully join in alongside them. Shetland is a relatively small electoral community and fair play should be given to all ,especially as there are a considerable number of local issues which should be addressed by candidates for Government.

  • Phil Smith

    • April 11th, 2011 18:01

    What a disgraceful ruling, Democracy at work again!.
    I sincerely hope Billy Fox takes a very big chunk of the Shetland vote, then perhaps the BBC will want to listen to him ?

  • Sandy McMillan

    • April 11th, 2011 18:04

    Its a democratic country, everyone should be given a equal chance to view there policys, no matter what party they stand for, Billy is being discriminated against by those that are worrying about there future, this snub by the BBC will certainly do Billys campaign no harm what so ever,Billy is a winner in every respect,

  • Brian Smith

    • April 11th, 2011 18:34

    The BBC is nuts. Speak about being thirled to the establishment!

  • Robert Smith

    • April 11th, 2011 20:57

    I didn’t hear much outcry when I got the same treatment last year.
    It didn’t seem to matter that I was the official candidate from the second biggest UK party in Europe.
    Why all the attention over an independent?

  • Gordon Harmer

    • April 12th, 2011 8:29

    Radio Shetland should be bombarded with emails letters and phone calls questioning this decision. We live in a democracy and as a candidate Billy Fox should be there with the rest of the candidates to answer questions put his case.

  • Dale Smith

    • April 12th, 2011 9:01

    Given how BBC Scotland is managed I am not surprised that they choose to treat Billy Fox in this shabby manner.
    BBC Shetland must be embarrassed by their bosses.
    And, Robert Smith, if I had the faintest idea of who you, or your party is, I might consider raising an outcry. Or probably not.

  • Robert Smith

    • April 12th, 2011 9:32

    I was the UKIP candidate at the last general election, spent a fortune travelling to Shetland and got TWO chances to speak at the radio hustings – from the audience.
    No wonder you have no idea who I am. 🙂
    List candidate this time..

  • Peter Marwick

    • April 12th, 2011 17:00

    I agree that Billy Fox should have his say, but it would be farcical to allow anyone who threw their hat in the ring equal billing in the election hustings. What if the Monster Raving Loony Party or the BNP decided to put forward a candidate? Should they be offered the same?

    Hopefully Billy is given enough air time to share his views and policy aspirations with the audience, but I think the BBC have made the right decision.

  • Gordon Harmer

    • April 13th, 2011 17:25

    The BBC are not right to exclude Billy Fox from the election hustings, who are they to choose who is invited. They are public servants they should provide a totally unbiased, fair debate which should include all legitimate candidates. This is typical of the British media its called electioneering, they try to influence the outcome of an election by being discriminatory.
    Billy Fox is not of the ilk of the monster raving loony party or the bnp he is probably the most legitimate candidate standing. Having no party whip to follow, or political agenda to influence the way he answers questions, makes me want to hear what he has to say when he answering the same questions as put to those who do.

  • Peter Marwick

    • April 14th, 2011 12:27

    I hope you don’t think I was comparing Billy Fox to the BNP or the Monster Raving Loony Party, that certainly wasn’t my intention. I want to hear what he has to say as well, but how many candidates should be allowed equal billing? Setting a precedent here could result in a deluge of candidates next time determined to have their say, which would be detrimental to genuine debate.

  • Gordon Harmer

    • April 14th, 2011 14:05

    No I don’t think you where comparing Billy Fox to either of those parties. But Billy has had more to say about issues that are of concern to all Shetlanders through the local paper and web sites like this than any of the other candidates excluding Tavish Scott. Shetlanders Know who he is but I bet they could not name all the other candidates excluding Tavish Scott. This alone should include him in this debate, he is known through out Shetland for his views on the wind farm (not that I agree with him) and other important issues that will and do affect us all. Taking Tavish out of the picture, Billy Fox has a far bigger profile here than any of the other candidates and that actually should include him in this debate. If the dictatorial BBC followed their own rules on this subject the above would include Mr Fox in this debate.

  • Craig Smaaskjaer

    • April 14th, 2011 15:20

    Gordon, I think that about sums it up. Can anyone honeslty say that the Tories are more representative of Shetlands political views than Billy? That would be a pretty depressing turn of events. I happen to think quite strongly that Billy Fox would be a better MSP through the next parliament than Tavish, but I don’t think that should have any bearing at all on this argument. The fact you yourself don’t agree with his position on the wind farm, but argue for his inclusion in the debate, is exactly why I manage to keep the faith in politics just now. The politicians shouldnt be trying to tell the people what’s best for them just now; they should be learning from them.

    Peter – I totally get where you are coming from as well. but I think there are times when it should be up to the people to decide. The only reason Nick Griffin’s appearance on QT was a shambles was because David Dimbleby thought he would try to speak for the people and totally debased the entire event. It’s the same with many arguments surrounding AV and PR systems: some people seem to think that if we dont use our 1st vote for a BNP candidate we will most certainly give them the 2nd. I think the best thing you can do with cretins like Griffin is show them up for the dreadful politicians they are, and trust in the vast majority of the electorate to deny them any legitimacy. As for the Monster Raving Loony Party… come on! I say give them a seat. There are a few clowns representing the main parties this time round, so another one wont make much odds!

  • Peter Marwick

    • April 14th, 2011 18:50

    How do we decide which times the public get to decide and which times they don’t?

    Anyway, it all seems academic now. He seems to have decided that it’s top table or he’s not playing. It would have been preferable to all if he participated in the debate from the floor rather than having his own meeting with no other candidates present (although I’m sure he’d rightly point out that they’re more than welcome). A shame, but that’s his choice.

  • Craig Smaaskjaer

    • April 14th, 2011 20:10

    He is going to hold his own session for folk to go along and join in with the debate. I thought that was making the best of the situation to be honest.

    On the matter of public debate, I don’t think there is a right answer for that, Peter. There will always be folk with pretty narrow views on life, but I don’t think they should be allowed to silence those with something positive to say.

  • Gordon Harmer

    • April 14th, 2011 20:38

    How on earth could Billy Fox hold a debate from the floor with a room full of other people all wanting to ask questions, The idea of this kind of debate is to give every body a chance to ask questions and the candidates a chance to answer.

  • Robert Smith

    • April 21st, 2011 11:45

    Could someone explain why I “wasn’t a serious contender”?
    I was the official candidate from the UK’s second biggest party in Europe.
    In what way does an independent trump this?

  • Colin Hunter

    • April 21st, 2011 23:57

    Nobody had a pink clue who you were and still don’t! Simple enough??

  • Robert Smith

    • April 22nd, 2011 10:15

    Weel buey, you should have read the paper, listened to the radio and attended the hustings.
    Part of the job of a council official I’d have thought…although council officials aren’t renowned for their observational skills. 😉

  • Colin Hunter

    • April 22nd, 2011 12:42

    Might well be part of the job of a council official, but then seeing I’m not one it doesn’t really concern me. My voting mind is made up long before the frantic scrabbling for support starts, and has more to do with the track record of the incumbent government, and whether or not I consider them fit for another term, than any promises made in manifestos and on hustings platforms, most of which will never come to fruition anyway. As far as I can see it’s a 2 horse race for Holyrood but there may well be an upset or two along the way.


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