BBC Scotland is scheduled to broadcast two leaders debates, one in May just eight weeks before the European Union (EU) referendum, but by omitting the Scottish UKIP leader they will not feature any anti-EU voices.
The pair of leaders debates will take place ahead of the Scottish Parliament elections on Thursday 5th May. The second one will be broadcast on 1st May, at a time when the EU referendum debate will be in full flow.
All five invited panellists will be campaigning for the UK to remain within the EU, reports Buzzfeed, with the only Scottish party leader working for a Leave vote in the referendum— UKIP’s David Coburn (pictured) — not being invited to participate. This is in spite of the BBC Trust’s guidelines during the Holyrood election specifically requiring impartial coverage.
The guidelines state:
If the election period overlaps with the referendum period on EU membership, content producers must also take account of the referendum guidelines and ensure due impartiality is achieved with regard to both votes.
Mr. Coburn has been invited to take part in another BBC debate with the other five Scottish leaders on 24th March, but that is before the official start of the EU referendum campaign and he has expressed his anger at being excluded from later events.
The second debate falls well within the June referendum’s official 10-week campaign period, beginning on 14th April and running right through to the day of the vote on 23 June. During that campaign period the BBC is required to produce impartial coverage of both the Leave and Remain sides of the argument.
Despite the referendum coverage rules, BBC Scotland has confirmed that the five pro-EU panellists — SNP leader and First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon, Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party leader Ruth Davidson, Labour’s Kezia Dugdale, Liberal Democrat Willie Rennie, and Green Party co-convener Patrick Harvie — will all be able to discuss Europe freely during their May debate.
A BBC spokesperson confirmed:
“We will not be avoiding any issues in any part of coverage and are confident that our overall obligations on due impartiality for both votes will be met across the range and breadth of our output.”