Independent candidate Billy Fox has pulled out of BBC Radio Shetland’s election hustings programme after being told he could not sit on the platform with the four other candidates who represent mainstream parties.
Instead he intends hosting his own public meeting immediately after the recorded event in the Shetland Museum and Archives on Friday 22nd April. He will give a short presentation and take questions in the auditorium.
Mr Fox today won support from one of his rivals. Conservative candidate Sandy Cross called for the BBC to reconsider its ruling and allow Mr Fox to participate fully in the hustings.
He said: “Whilst I do not share Billy Fox’s views, in my opinion the debate will be the poorer without his full involvement. I urge the BBC to reconsider and allow him to participate on an equal footing with the four other candidates invited.”
Mr Fox apologised to anybody disappointed by his decision not to take part, adding that he was sure they would understand his reasoning.
He had protested to the BBC about his exclusion, saying he felt “unfairly disadvantaged” when told he would have to sit in the audience and would get “an opportunity to contribute from the floor”.
The corporation’s Glasgow managers refused to budge from their policy, insisting that candidates had to demonstrate “previous substantial electoral support” in a constituency before being allowed on a hustings panel.
Mr Fox said he was “pretty disgusted” and “humiliated” by his treatment. He said today: “This is national BBC policy on hustings events. In my opinion it contradicts the Representation of the People Act that requires the BBC to give equal airtime to all candidates, regardless of their standing. I believe it is undemocratic and discriminatory.”
He accused the corporation of imposing a “one size fits all” policy more suited to urban areas down south where a long list of “lunatic fringe” candidates standing in a ward did make it difficult to offer equal coverage.
Mr Fox’s treatment by the BBC mirrors that of the independent candidate in Orkney, James Stockan, who is the vice-convener of Orkney Islands Council. He has been refused a seat on the panel for BBC Radio Orkney’s live hustings on 28th April.
The pair’s exclusion is all the more controversial given that both men are local and prominent in political debate in their respective communities whereas some of the main parties’ candidates have previously had no public profile in Orkney or Shetland and have scarcely set foot in the islands.
The BBC said it was disappointed by Mr Fox’s decison. A spokesman said: “We hope he’ll reconsider his decision and play a part in the debate.”