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Sky News campaigns for televised general election debates between party leaders

Sky News campaigns for televised general election debates between party leaders

Sky News has suggested that an independent body should be set up for general election debates on television. 

This debates commission would be similar to the US's Presidential Debates Commission which is an organisation that deals with the sponsoring and organising of televised debates.

Sky News has contacted party leaders and broadcasters with the aim of gathering support. 

Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the Labour Party, has backed the campaign for an independent commission proposed by Sky News which would control and manage TV debates during general elections between party leaders.

"I welcome any move that will guarantee general election debates so that voters can hear directly from those putting themselves forward to lead the country," said Corbyn.

Other MPs have agreed with the idea and have said that such TV debates would "energise" general election campaigns as opposed to the "backroom" deals which were previously organised between politicians and broadcasters.

As proposed by Sky News, the duties of the Leaders' Debate Commission (LDC) would do the following:

  • Set the format and rules of the debates
  • Handle moderation
  • Outline the criteria for political party participation
  • Ensure the objectivity of audiences
  • Steer negotiations between broadcasters and parties

During the run up to the general election in 2015, there were a great deal of negotiations about a televised political debate which Theresa May also refused to take part in in 2017.

The first party leader to ever support the televised debates was the leader of the Liberal Democrats, Sir Vince Cable, who in agreement with the 2010 TV debates said "They energised the whole election campaign. It's surely right that the ground rules should be decided in a non-political independent environment of the kind you suggest. We should now be putting this structure in place so there's no argy-bargy in the few weeks before the next general election."

Sky News has said that the LDC would benefit the general public as the debates would not be controlled by politicians as the commission itself would be responsible for deciding the format and rules of the debate, as well as the required criteria for party participation.

The head of Sky News, John Ryley, stated:

“This is all about doing what’s best for the voting public. Sky News, along with the other broadcasters, changed the political landscape in this country by creating the first leaders’ debates eight years ago. Sadly it stands as an exception rather than the watershed it should have been.

Political manoeuvring and failings by the broadcasters has allowed that momentum to be lost. Sky News believes an independent commission should set the terms for debates in future, to inform and engage the voting public with a head-to-head debate between the two political leaders battling it out for No 10.”

Additionally, Adam Boulton, Sky News' editor-at-large, said:

“There have been two general elections since 2010 and no proper leaders’ debates took place in either of them. The electorate was repeatedly deprived of the most powerful live, appointment-to-view political programming that television can provide.

“Politicians are to blame for this failure. So too are the broadcasters. To ensure leaders’ debates happen regularly in future responsibility for organising them needs to be taken out of both their hands.”

The SNP's spokesperson, MP Hannah Bardell, stated:

"The SNP has always supported and participated in Leaders' TV debates, and it is time other parties caught up. The SNP is prepared to support an independent commission in principle, subject to agreement on fair representation for all parties in such debates. 

It would be completely unacceptable and undemocratic for Westminster parties and broadcasters to attempt to stitch up and shut out the SNP from TV debates- as happened in the past."

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