The BBC's Question Time is an emblem of how broadcasters have let down Green voters – and failed democracy

People have a right to see and hear from the people they voted for, and for those they say they intend to vote for

Alexandra Phillips
Thursday 27 June 2019 13:19
Nigel Farage fails to answer question on WTO trade deals on Question Time

For many casual observers of the Green Party there was a sense that our record-breaking European election results in May would be a high water mark.

Returning seven MEPs, hot on the heels of our spectacular local election results, was a remarkable achievement, but since then our popularity has continued to surge. Take a look at the polls, beyond the terrifying results being achieved by the Brexit Party, and you’ll see the Greens rising.

A poll this week from Yougov, which puts the Greens at 10 per cent, is unprecedented, but reflects a broad shift towards us in recent weeks. Our support is surging, and more people than ever are voting for us, but the one place you’re unlikely to see a Green Party politician is on your TV screens.

The Greens, and other parties to different extents, find ourselves in a double bind. On the one hand we have an electoral system for national elections that systematically locks out smaller parties while on the other we have a broadcast media that tends to ignore changes in public opinion, unless they are from the far right.

When we do see levels of support shoot up, the media tends to all but ignore it, meaning that people’s voting preferences and their intentions stated in polls just aren’t backed up by what they see on the screens. You can understand it then, when people retreat back to the big parties when their own choices don’t appear to be making an impact.

Don’t just take my word for it you can see this bias in action when you look at past elections. In 2015, when the Greens polled in the double digits in the campaign period, we received just 2.6 per cent of the broadcast coverage, and just 1.4 per cent of the print coverage.

I don’t for a second think that broadcasters should directly reflect the exact percentages of polls in their coverage, and completely understand that they take other factors such as past election results into account. However, for a party to reach record levels of support but then be featured on less than one in thirty pieces of broadcast coverage seems profoundly unjust.

Just this year a quick glance at the Question Time panellists. The Green Party has had a total of one guest on the show this year. The Conservatives had two MPs on just last week. And this comes after the Greens beat the Tories at the last national election. How on earth can that be right? (And the trend continues. It is no surprise that we also have no representative on tonight’s show.)

The Greens lack of coverage is even more stark when contrasted with the airtime given to Ukip and then the Brexit party by the broadcasters. We know they are polling above us, but surely everyone can accept that part of the reason for their success is the broadcasters following their every move and poll bounce with apparent dedication.

I do not for a second think that the broadcasters have an easy job. I am well aware that debates involving more parties make for more complex television and radio, and that producers are heavily reliant on existing contacts to book guests onto their shows. Shifting political coverage to truly represent the more plural political times we find ourselves in isn’t easy, but it truly is necessary.

This isn’t just about the Greens of course, it’s about our democracy. People have a right to see and hear from the people they voted for, and for those they say they intend to vote for. A media that can respond to shifting opinion is one that will work both for those who consume it, and for the democracy in which it operates. Britain has suffered so much from people feeling ignored, and the media does need to take some responsibility for that.

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For now and I’m sure this won’t come as a surprise my focus is on arguing that the Greens must be given fair airtime. One in 10 people say they would vote Green in a general election. Imagine if we were given a 10th of the political airtime? Or even a 20th? The political debate would be transformed.

We demand the broadcasters shift their coverage to reflect this Green wave. Failing to do so isn’t just unfair, it’s an insult to voters.

Alexandra Philips is a Green Party MEP for south-east England

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