Change UK writes letter to BBC chief over Have I Got News For You cancellation
Change UK has written to BBC chief Lord Hall over a decision to cancel an episode of Have I Got News For You.
The new political party said it had raised concerns with the broadcaster over the fairness of its coverage of Change UK during the European elections campaign period.
In a letter to BBC director general Lord Hall, it also called on the BBC to “review your decision to bar our party” from the BBC Wales election candidates’ debate, to be broadcast on Sunday.
Change UK’s campaign co-ordinator Chris Leslie also called for a “full explanation of the BBC’s last-minute decision to pull (Friday’s) episode of Have I Got News For You”, which featured its interim leader Heidi Allen on the panel.
The BBC One comedy quiz show tweeted shortly before the pre-recorded programme was due to air that it had been withdrawn.
The BBC referred to its editorial guidelines following the announcement that the episode of the panel show, with Ian Hislop and Paul Merton, would be broadcast at a later date.
It came after Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage had been a panellist on BBC Question Time on Thursday.
Announcing the letter, Mr Leslie said: “Britain’s politics is broken and if we’re going to fix it, people need a chance to hear from the full range of parties standing in the upcoming European elections – including Change UK with our support for a People’s Vote and remain.
“The BBC has a crucial role as our national broadcaster, but we’re worried that over the past week, it’s got a couple of big calls wrong.
“This is particularly concerning given that similar decision about Nigel Farage’s appearances over the years appear to have gone the other way.
“Today, we’re asking the BBC to look again and make sure it’s not doing British voters a disservice by giving some parties more favourable treatment than others.”
The letter states: “I am writing urgently and in light of recent events for the BBC to provide a fair and balanced approach towards Change UK in its coverage ahead of the 23rd May European Parliamentary elections.
“As the campaign co-ordinator for Change UK, I am specifically asking that you urgently review your decision to bar our party from the BBC Wales election candidates’ debate, due to take place tomorrow (Sunday) morning.
“For your BBC Wales team to exclude Change UK in particular … is deeply unfair and will limit debate rather than allow it.”
It adds: “Your decision last night – within an hour or so of scheduled broadcast – to pull the screening of Have I Got News For You featuring our interim leader Heidi Allen has also raised serious concerns.”
The letter states: “The decision to withdraw this programme from air is all the more bizarre given the BBC’s decision to allow Nigel Farage to participate in an edition of Have I Got News For You on 11th April 2014 ahead of the May 2014 European Parliamentary elections.”
It claims: “Although Heidi is not a candidate in the European elections, I do hope that the BBC will allow her voice to be heard and those of other Change UK candidates and representatives – and not continue to favour Mr Nigel Farage in your coverage, who is not only a party leader but a candidate himself.
“I urge you to ensure a fair approach is taken throughout this election period so that reasonable voices from the centre ground of British politics can also be heard in your coverage.”
In a tweet on Friday, Have I Got News For You’s official account said: “Sorry everyone. The BBC have pulled tonight’s edition of #HIGNFY – no, we didn’t book Danny Baker.
“We booked Heidi Allen, a member of a party no-one knows the name of (not even the people in it), because the Euro elections, which nobody wants, may or may not be happening.
Scheduled for 9pm on BBC One, the show was replaced with Would I Lie to You?, which should have aired afterwards.
Following the announcement, Allen, who left the Conservatives alongside her colleagues Anna Soubry and Sarah Wollaston earlier this year to join the new party, said an explanation was needed.
The MP for South Cambridgeshire tweeted: “Maybe I’m just not as funny as Nigel Farage eh #hignfy @haveigotnews !? He’s so funny, he seems to be on the BBC all the time!
“An explanation would be appreciated, not least to acknowledge the hard work of the entire crew who worked diligently to put the show together.”
A BBC statement said: “The BBC has specific editorial guidelines that apply during election periods.
“Because of this it would be inappropriate to feature political party leaders on entertainment programmes during this short election period, which does not allow for equal representation to be achieved.
“So we will not broadcast the scheduled episode of HIGNFY featuring Heidi Allen, leader of Change UK. We will look to broadcast this episode at a later date.”
A Have I Got News For You source said: “The BBC told us late this afternoon that they had decided to pull the show. This was because Heidi Allen was on the panel, and, in their judgement, we’re officially in an election period. And she’s officially a party leader.”
The source added: “We tried everything we could to get the BBC to broadcast it. We even offered to blur Heidi Allen’s face and replace her voice with an actor. Apparently that ‘wasn’t helpful’.
“It was a cracking show and everyone at Hat Trick is sorry you’re not going to see it tonight. We’ve always felt that HIGNFY is at its best when it bites the hand that feeds it. We’re delighted the BBC appears to continue to agree.
“We wouldn’t usually discuss our plans for next week’s show this far in advance. But I reckon this story will probably come up. Do tune in. We’ll be on next Friday at 9 on BBC1. Probably. ”
The source also claimed that someone from the BBC Editorial Policy Unit had attended the recording, but a spokesman from the corporation said that was not the case, although a lawyer had been there to check for issues such as defamation or contempt.