This morning I received a response to my complaint to the BBC about Radio 4’s Women’s Hour. To recap: the other day, during a piece on young people engaging in politics, presenter Jane Garvey asserted that the Lib Dems “appear to have quite a clear line on trying to abolish tuition fees. Er, it’s not actually in their manifesto though”. To hear this, go here and scroll to 13:40 in the programme.
I complained on the grounds that she cannot possibly know what is in our manifesto, which has yet to be published, and she seems to be suggesting that we are being in some way disingenuous, when in fact the party confirmed recently, after very transparently considering whether or not the policy was still affordable, that we remain committed to abolishing tuition fees.
So, how did the BBC respond?
“This was a discussion about how the political parties can engage the iPod generation in politics. As with other discussions that Woman’s Hour have been running in the pre election period, we have not used politicians in the debates. In this one we cast the item by talking to a group of students from Sheffield Hallam University and then following that with a studio discussion with a young labour supporter, a conservative supporter and someone who was undecided.
We can assure you that it was not Jane Garvey’s intention to ‘snottily’ tell us that the Lib Dem idea of abolishing tuition fees was not included in their manifesto which obviously has not yet been published. She raised the question in the discussion because this concept had already been mentioned by the students from Sheffield Hallam.
Overall, we are very much aware of the need to represent the parties fairly and proportionally in the run up to the election so we can also assure the you that this is being monitored and that to date, the Lib Dems have received fair, proportional participation in our discussions.”
Nevertheless, I fully appreciate that you feel strongly about this matter. Therefore I would like to assure you that we have registered your comments on our audience log. This is the internal report of audience feedback which we compile daily for all programme makers and commissioning executives within the BBC, and also their senior management. It ensures that your points, and all other comments we receive, are circulated and considered across the BBC.
Thanks again for taking the time to contact us with your views.
For those of us who have ever written in to complain about the woeful under-representation of Lib Dems on Question Time recently, for instance, it is at least nice to receive something which has been written specifically in response to my message. Nonetheless, I find the response a bit underwhelming. They seem to think that it was primarily the “snotti[ness]” of Garvey’s assertion which I objected to, rather than the sheer untruth which it carried. They also seem to be suggesting that Garvey wasn’t really saying anything much, simply reflecting the comments from the students in Nick Clegg’s home turf of Sheffield Hallam. That’s all very well, but personally, I think the wording is pretty clear that she thought she was calling the party out on dumping a policy but continuing to use it to leverage young people’s support. I’m sure she can’t be the only journalist out there who is under this impression. After all, it’s quite a faff to actually follow the ins and outs of a democratic policy making process; so much easier to adopt the standard issue “whatever the party leadership spin operation says is instantly policy” which they are used to using with the two establishment parties.
But hey, don’t take my word for it, go listen to the programme on iPlayer (in the next couple of days, anyway) and make your own decision.