1990s >> 1993 >> no-1062-february-1993

Between the Lines: Letter from the BBC

Letter from the BBC


Last May, following the total exclusion of the Socialist Party’s ideas and actions from the BBC’s extensive election coverage, we published in this column an Open Letter to the Director General of the BBC. We pointed out that it was a principle of democracy to allow time for the expression of minority ideas; that it is inexcusable to refuse radio or TV coverage to a small party such as ourselves on the ground that we are small, not in small part as a result of media silence as to our existence. We made what we regard as the strong case that we are confident that if we advocated bombings and street violence — and, better still, acted upon such advocacy — we would doubtlessly obtain plenty of media exposure. The BBC is penalizing our party for being democratic, rational and peaceful. The BBC failed to assist in creating a democratic electoral atmosphere, but contributed to the undemocratic carve-up of TV and radio time by and in the interest of the existing ruling parties.


On 15 December 1992 a letter of reply was received, not from the Director General, but from one Douglas Evans who is described as Chief Assistant, Political and Parliamentary Affairs. He writes as follows:


  “I think I would find it helpful to know more about the campaign which you conducted at the time of the General Election. For example, how many seats did you contest and how did you make sure that your views and policies were communicated to media organisations? Were these prominently reported by other news media?
I am sorry that you are dissatisfied with the rules governing the allocation of Party Election Broadcasts, but I should point out that these rules are devised by the Committee on Political Broadcasting and are not the sole responsibility of the BBC.”


We thank Mr Evans for his letter on behalf of the BBC and have published it because we intend to keep this correspondence open to the scrutiny of all our readers who will be free to judge whether the BBC is acting democratically or otherwise. We shall respond with some comments and some questions to Douglas Evans.


Firstly, we find it strange that the BBC, the largest news-gathering body in Britain, envied across the world for its professionalism, needs to ask the Socialist Party how many seats we contested in the last British election (a fact which was published in most quality newspapers). We contested one (Holborn and St Pancras), the main reason being that we are a small party and are restricted by the government-imposed deposit of £500 per candidate. It could be argued that a party contesting only one seat deserves to be ignored. If so, the BBC should let us know that this is their policy and tell us how many seats we should contest before they will stop ignoring us. We would remind the BBC that the Natural Law Party, with extremely rich backers and a few bizarre policies, paid to put up enough candidates to buy a Party election Broadcast. The Natural Law Party, formed in 1992 as an electoral stunt and now dissolved obtained that much BBC coverage, whereas the Socialist Party, formed in 1904 with eighty-eight years of principled and well-argued policies was worth no time.


Secondly, we can inform Mr Evans that the Socialist Party called a Press Conference, which was held in central London, within days of the election being announced. All media organizations, national and local, were invited to attend. We made it clear that if they could not attend they could contact our candidate, election agent or other speakers. They were sent copies of our official manifesto. No TV or radio station reported on these, “prominently” or otherwise. There was coverage in the local press. But our campaign was of national importance. We were the only political party standing in the 1992 election committed to the common ownership and democratic control of all social resources. We alone stood for the abolition of the money system; of the economy based upon buying and selling. We were the only leaderless party in the election, making it clear at all times that our candidate was not seeking followers and would refuse to lead anyone wishing to follow him or our party. We were the only party urging electors not to vote for us unless they agreed with what we stood for. Such policies might be rejected as absurd by controlling editors at the BBC. They are free to conclude that, but our concern is to allow the millions of people voting in the election, many of whom expressed the view that they were presented with little choice, with our revolutionary alternative. Let them judge what we say on its merits.


Thirdly, we note with disgust that the Committee on Political Broadcasting — a body appointed by and comprising those who have won previous elections — are free to determine the rules regarding media time for elections in which they intend to ensure that they will win again. In short, politicians who have deceived their way into power in the past set the rules for who may have public exposure in the future. We would be pleased to know when this Committee was elected, by whom, with whose authority and to whom it is accountable. We assume that this is not secret information.


Finally, some question. Would the BBC confirm or deny that any party, however newly-formed or lacking in policy, may have BBC exposure if it can afford to pay the £25,000 deposits entitling it to enough candidates to give it preference over the Socialist Party which has less funds? Is it the ease that an invitation to a press conference in which our party proposed to advocate acts of terrorism would have stirred more BBC interest than the total indifference which our democratic position resulted in? Is there a BBC policy to guarantee the right to be heard of minority political parties or does the BBC regard this aspect of democracy as unimportant? As the Socialist Party is refused a slot on the BBC “access” programmes on the ground that we are a political party, and we are refused electoral exposure on the ground that we are not a big enough political party, can we assume that the BBC expects us to either wind up as a political party so as to obtain half-an-hour of access TV or abandon our principles in order to be accepted as a winnable force by the BBC?


Steve Coleman