Have I Got News for You: Heidi Allen accuses BBC of ‘inconsistency’ after quiz show pulled over election rules

Exclusive: ‘It certainly, at the moment, doesn’t feel like we are getting a fair crack of the whip’

Lizzy Buchan
Political Correspondent
Saturday 11 May 2019 16:29 BST

Heidi Allen has accused the BBC of “inconsistency” after the broadcaster pulled an episode of Have I Got News For You (HIGNFY) at the last minute over concerns it would breach election guidelines.

The Change UK leader was due to appear in a prerecorded episode of the popular quiz show on Friday night, only to be notified an hour beforehand that it would not be broadcast.

The BBC said it was “inappropriate to feature political party leaders” on the programme ahead of the European parliament elections on 23 May to ensure equal representation of views.

But Ms Allen questioned why former Ukip leader Nigel Farage was allowed to appear on the programme ahead of similar elections in 2014 and said her party was “not getting a fair crack of the whip”.

Change UK has now written to the BBC director general Tony Hall to raise “serious concerns” about the decision, alongside a separate row over the party’s exclusion from a BBC Wales election debate.

The former Tory MP told The Independent: “I’m not an expert on the whole balance and Ofcom rules, but people are putting out there lots of examples of how much time Farage is getting coverage-wise and examples of when he has been on that programme before elections.”

Ms Allen said she had asked producers about the upcoming election before the programme was recorded but she was told there was no conflict.

She said: “I was really disappointed. It’s a tremendous waste of everybody’s time and their professional skills – particularly when I had asked the question. It was very strange.

Ms Allen added: “There does seem to be a bit of inconsistency from the way coverage is given.”

Asked if pro-EU parties were being represented properly across the media, Ms Allen said: “It doesn’t feel like that, but that is our responsibility too.

“I wouldn’t want to blame that on the press – we have to work hard to do that and use every tool in the box, which we would do when it comes to social media.

“It certainly, at the moment, doesn’t feel like we are getting a fair crack of the whip, that’s for sure.”

Chris Leslie, the party’s campaign coordinator, has written to Lord Hall about the matter, saying: “The decision to withdraw this programme from air is all the more bizarre given the BBC’s decision to allow Nigel Farage to participate in an edition of Have I Got News For You on 11 April 2014 ahead of the May 2014 European parliamentary elections.”

He also urged the BBC to “review your decision to bar our party” from the BBC Wales election candidates’ debate, to be broadcast on Sunday.

A HIGNFY source said: “The BBC told us late this afternoon that they had decided to pull the show. This was because Heidi Allen was on the panel, and, in their judgement, we’re officially in an election period. And she’s officially a party leader.”

The source added: “We tried everything we could to get the BBC to broadcast it. We even offered to blur Heidi Allen’s face and replace her voice with an actor. Apparently that ‘wasn’t helpful’.

“It was a cracking show, and everyone at Hat Trick is sorry you’re not going to see it tonight.”

A BBC statement said: “The BBC has specific editorial guidelines that apply during election periods.

“Because of this it would be inappropriate to feature political party leaders on entertainment programmes during this short election period, which does not allow for equal representation to be achieved.

“So we will not broadcast the scheduled episode of HIGNFY featuring Heidi Allen, leader of Change UK. We will look to broadcast this episode at a later date.”

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