Complaint about BBC Question Time


Dear Sir/Madam

I am writing to complain about Question Time from Cardiff which was broadcast last night. It is a programme that seems to be in some pre-devolution timewarp. Whatever internal measures the BBC make have taken following the King Report none of them seemed to be apparent in your recent programme – in great contrast to the Question Time broadcast from Northern Ireland recently.

The choice of the panel left a great deal to be desired with two of the panellists (Nigel Farage and Liam Fox) having no discernible connexion with Wales, while Janet Street Porter's family links to Wales and previous antagonistic comments on the Welsh language and Burberry's did not seem particularly relevant to the debate or the current situation in Wales.

As a result of the panel's composition, it was noticeable that there was no representation from the Liberal Democrats, and the ability of some of the panel members to discuss matters of specifically Welsh interest was somewhat limited. Fortunately for them, of course, they did not have to do so.

The questions themselves seem to have been very heavily filtered (on the assumption that they were not planted) and failed to address any fundamental Welsh political issues. On the contrary, the two questions about the behaviour of Gordon Brown and Nigel Farage did not (as pointed out by a member of the audience) advance in any way the argument of whom to vote for in the forthcoming election. UKIP is the only party that wishes to abolish the Welsh Assembly as far as I am aware, and it would have been much more informative to ask Nigel Farage something about his party's policy in respect of Wales. We were then treated to the extraordinary spectacle of a question of legislation on faith schools which is of limited relevance to Wales, since this is a devolved matter (e.g. see the parliamentary website and its comments on devolution in respect of this legislation). This is a perfectly appropriate matter to discuss, but why in one of the parts of the UK where it will largely not be applicable? Can we expect questions about Scottish and Welsh legislation to be discussed by English Question Time panels in the future, or is this yet another case of Wales being treated as a part of England by the BBC and the issue of devolution being studiously ignored?

To add insult to injury we then had a question about the England football team. It is incomprehensible to me why it was thought such a question was appropriate to be asked in Cardiff. A number of the members of the audience and Elfyn Llwyd made it quite clear that it was a question of little interest to people in Wales. Can we expect questions about Welsh rugby from Newcastle or Basingstoke in the future? At a time when the Welsh Assembly has just voted unanimously to ask for more powers through a referendum, wouldn't this have been an appropriate occasion to discuss this issue, since the majority of your English viewers may be unaware that this potentially historic event even took place. Since it is probably the last time that Question Time will visit Wales prior to the Westminster election it would have a useful opportunity to discuss issues that are of particular relevance to Wales in the same way as the Question Time broadcast from Northern Ireland focused on that part of the UK.

In the BBC's Programme Response to Devolution published in December 1998, the BBC stated that:

In the past the BBC has sometimes appeared insensitive to political, administrative, cultural and linguistic differences across the UK, giving the impression of a London-based organisation dismissive of the more geographically distant parts of the UK. There have been errors of judgement and, on occasions, of accuracy.

As a priority, the BBC is now embarking on an extensive series of measures to educate journalists, programme makers and managers, alerting them to the differences across the UK ... they will include:

•  Regular monitoring of programmes for sensitivity to differences between the nations.

These measures are important not only to enable the BBC to provide accurate and well judged news for its audiences in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland but also to allow it to offer all viewers and listeners a true sense of the diversity within the UK.

Although this paragraph related to news programmes the document as a whole deals with news and current affairs, and I assume that the BBC would have the same goals for a programme like Question Time. Whatever measures you may have taken there appears, in the case of this recent programme, to have been no discernible effort to meet the BBC's diversity goal. This programme could just as easily (and more appropriately) have been transmitted from Norwich or Manchester for example. It is a clear indication that any changes that the BBC may have made in respect of reflecting the reality of the diversity of the UK have been wholly inadequate. This programme represented a total failure by the BBC of making the viewers in Wales or the wider UK aware of the important political issues that are distinctive to Wales at a time when there is a Westminster election in the offing. If the BBC wishes to patronise and ignore Wales in equal measure it is a waste of licence payers' money for it to do it locally – it can do this just as easily from London and stop the pretence that Question Time has any meaningful interest in the issues of Wales by broadcasting from Wales.

Yours faithfully

Madoc Batcup


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Illtyd Luke said...


Please could you post a quick email address to whom we can send letters of complaint to at the BBC? I don't want to go through the official complaints form etc.

Paul Williams said...

Madoc is absolutely right. I made many of the same points here:

glynbeddau said...

Excellent letter. The whole series is a disgrace but it actually shows what Britishness means. However in anyone wants to read a decent attempt at the subject then Norman Davies’ The Isles is well worth looking at.

Ryan said...

I would be interested to hear the BBC's reply although I imagine it would be the same as usual.

Although this is an important issue and that the English especially need to learn about devolution, the BBC does contribute more airtime to Welsh regional programming than any other broadcaster, irrispective of public service requirements.

The greatest shame is that the company that produces QT is owned by Tinopolis of Llanelli.

Illtyd Luke said...

The solution is so simple- just have the Scotland/NI format replicated for Wales.

MH said...

This page on the BBC website seems to be the best starting point for complaints, IL:


Good post, Druid. Yes, even two or three of those questions would have been more appropriate than some of those that were asked.


I must get round to reading The Isles, G. Several of my friends have.


Ryan, If Madoc gives permission, I'll definitely publish the reply he gets. As it happens, I've noticed rather a lot of visitors from Tinopolis in the last couple of days. So someone has got wind of the complaint before the BBC could forward it to them. But it can't be the first complaint of this nature that they've had ... and I guess they, and the BBC, have a stock reply ready and waiting.

And if anyone from Tinopolis does want to comment here, they'd be very welcome to do so.

I'm not sure of the dividing line between Tinopolis' production responsibility and the BBC's editorial responsibility. I'm sure the questions are genuinely from the audience. But they must get hundreds of questions, so it is a matter of which get chosen. My fear is that they might get fifty questions on the primary lawmaking powers referendum and one on John Terry ... but still pick the one on John Terry because it will appeal more to the country that comprises the majority of their audience.


And of course this directly relates to the "Primeministerial Debates" which makes it more than just a matter of BBC policy, but of broadcasting to different parts of the UK in general. Ultimately, I think the only real solution is to devolve responsibility for broadcasting to Wales, Scotland and NI.

I think the BBC generally does a good job, and is addressing this problem better than it has done in the past. Its policies in this area are much better than those of ITV and Sky. It is of course only hearsay, but I was told last night that BBC Cymru/Wales was very unhappy with the BBC/ITV/Sky decision.

Anonymous said...

I am a Scottish Nationalist and watched it in disbelief. We are over 10 years into Devolution and they pretend it hasn't happened.

It's because they're scared English people will realize how little mandate some Politicians have when voting on their affairs.

If an English votes for English Laws Ruling came in and/or an English Parliament was established they know it would be a Trojan Horse for Independence.

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