Lead­er­ship can­di­dates may boy­cott BBC for de­bate ‘bias’

The Daily Telegraph - - Front page - By Gor­don Rayner Po­lit­i­cal Edi­tor

THE Tory lead­er­ship can­di­dates are threat­en­ing to boy­cott fur­ther BBC tele­vi­sion de­bates over the cor­po­ra­tion’s “bi­ased” han­dling of Tues­day night’s hus­tings.

A BBC plan for a Ques­tion Time pro­gramme with the fi­nal two can­di­dates, and also for one-to-one in­ter­views with An­drew Neil, is in se­ri­ous doubt as a row about vet­ting rages on.

It emerged yes­ter­day that one of the view­ers cho­sen in ad­vance to ask a ques­tion dur­ing the Our Next Prime Min­is­ter pro­gramme had a his­tory of mak­ing anti-semitic re­marks and of at­tack­ing Boris John­son, while an­other was a former Labour Party worker.

Last night, Of­com con­firmed that it had re­ceived 21 com­plaints about the pro­gramme.

All four re­main­ing can­di­dates’ camps ex­pressed reser­va­tions last night about the BBC’S han­dling of the broad­cast and sug­gested that they would be more likely now to agree to a de­bate on ITV, Sky or Chan­nel 4.

An imam called Ab­dul­lah Pa­tel who asked the can­di­dates about Is­lam­o­pho­bia on Tues­day’s pro­gramme was al­lowed on the show de­spite tweet­ing about politi­cians “on the Zion­ist’s pay­roll” and en­dors­ing the re­lo­ca­tion of Is­rael to the US. He also once said that he had pre­pared a state­ment con­demn­ing Mr John­son’s use of lan­guage.

An­other ques­tioner, Aman Thakar, is a so­lic­i­tor who has been sec­onded to the Labour Party in the past and who once said that the most “harm­ful” part of Adolf Hitler’s “le­gacy” was his “abuse of the term ‘na­tion­al­ism’”.

The BBC pre­s­e­lected 12 view­ers to ask ques­tions by video link, all of whom were sup­posed to have been vet­ted. It ad­mit­ted yes­ter­day that Mr Pa­tel would not have been al­lowed on the show had his his­tory been known.

No date has yet been set by the BBC for the Ques­tion Time pro­gramme in which the cor­po­ra­tion pro­poses that each can­di­date face ques­tions from a live audience, one af­ter the other, with

Fiona Bruce host­ing. How­ever, a source close to Mr John­son said: “It hasn’t helped the BBC’S case for host­ing a Ques­tion Time-style de­bate.

“Can­di­dates will now be cast­ing doubt on the for­mat and the bal­ance and im­par­tial­ity of the BBC audience.”

A friend of Sa­jid Javid said of Tues- day night’s show, hosted by Emily Maitlis: “It wasn’t an ed­i­fy­ing for­mat and if they want to make a pitch for an­other TV de­bate you would want it to be a bit more thought through.

“It will play into our think­ing as to whether we agree or don’t agree to an­other BBC event. ITV, Sky and Chan­nel 4 all want to do a head-to-head as well and the Chan­nel 4 de­bate on Sun­day was very well done.”

A source close to Jeremy Hunt said: “We are re­serv­ing judg­ment but it’s fair to say we didn’t think it was bril­liant.” A source on Mr Gove’s cam­paign team said: “It is deeply con­cern­ing that the BBC failed to prop­erly vet those ask­ing ques­tions and pro­vided a plat­form for some­one who has spread anti-semitic mes­sages. The BBC should apol­o­gise.”

As well as the vet­ting row, can­di­dates had is­sues with the de­bate’s stag­ing and im­par­tial­ity even be­fore it be­gan.

More than one lead­er­ship hope­ful ex­pressed misgivings about the BBC’S use of bar stools rather than lecterns, which led to com­par­isons of the can­di­dates to an age­ing boy band.

A source said: “We asked for lecterns but were told that there wasn’t enough time. Then when the de­bate hap­pened we no­ticed a load of lecterns back­stage.”

There were also com­plaints that the BBC had bro­ken an agree­ment not to al­low Maitlis to ask her own ques­tions.

When Mr Pa­tel asked his ques­tion about Is­lam­o­pho­bia, Maitlis fol­lowed up by ask­ing Mr John­son whether he was re­spon­si­ble for the lengthy jail sen­tence be­ing served in Iran by Nazanin Zaghari-rat­cliffe.

Iain Dun­can Smith, the former Con­ser­va­tive Party leader and an in­flu­en­tial sup­porter of Mr John­son, said sev­eral view­ers who were se­lected to ask ques­tions dur­ing the BBC de­bate had been “anti-semitic, Cor­byn-sup­port­ing and anti-boris”.

He said: “Many of us de­tected a strong level of bias in the gen­eral pre­sen­ta­tion aimed at Boris John­son.

“This smacks of a de­lib­er­ate at­tempt to give the Labour Party an op­por­tu­nity to dam­age the lead­er­ship process.”

21 Num­ber of com­plaints re­ceived by Of­com in the hours af­ter Our Next Prime Min­is­ter was broad­cast live on Tues­day night

Ab­dul­lah Pa­tel, the imam who ap­peared on the de­bate, was found to have posted anti-semitic views on Twit­ter

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