Leadership candidates may boycott BBC for debate ‘bias’
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