BBC Scotland is facing criticism after presenting a ‘ridiculously one-sided’ audience on this week’s edition of political discussion program Debate Night.
Research by The National found that during Wednesday’s episode, more than half of the questions, comments and contributions from the audience were framed negatively against the SNP/Scottish Government.
Meanwhile, just 5% of contributions from the public were framed negatively against the Tories/UK government, and just over 40% were neutral.
The findings prompted questions about how audiences are assembled for the program and how questions are selected.
The TV show, which is effectively Scotland’s version of Question Time, sees presenter Stephen Jardine and members of the public put questions to a panel of politicians and public figures – with Greens co-leader Patrick Harvie, SNP MSP Paul McLennan, Tory MSP Douglas Lumsden, Scottish Labor MP Jackie Baillie and LibDem MSP Liam McArthur are taking part this week.
During the broadcast, Jardine answered four pre-screened questions from the public in Stirling, with members of the public asking about shipbuilding in light of Fergusson’s last row of ‘decimated’ high streets across the Scotland, cost of living and Covid restrictions.
Throughout the first three discussions, a number of public comments and additional questions were framed negatively towards the SNP or the Scottish Government.
One described the row of ferries as an ’embarrassment to Scotland’, before another suggested ferry contract signatories getting Covid in recent days was ‘convenient’.
Another audience member praised UK government shipbuilding, before later conversations saw public transport in Scotland branded as ‘appalling’ and one contributor suggested ending devolution could solve the problem of Scottish ministers saying they don’t have enough power.
In total, of the 19 questions put to the panel, 10 were negative towards the SNP/Scottish government, 10 were neutral and only one was negative towards the Conservatives/UK government.
SNP chairman Michael Russell said the Debate Night episode was “appalling”.
“It’s not the first time we’ve seen a ridiculously one-sided public stacked against the SNP during a regulated election period,” he told The National.
“The BBC and their production companies claim to spend a lot of time selecting audiences – so we are keen to understand why this audience was so loaded for anti-independence parties.
“We will be watching BBC Question Time tonight with interest.”
The SNP will speak to the BBC about the Debate Night programme.
A BBC Scotland spokesperson said: “As with all editions, the audience for last night’s debate night was carefully selected to ensure that a range of views and perspectives were heard and debated.
“We covered important topics such as the history of Calmac Ferry and the issue of the cost of living and our panelists had ample opportunity to engage and respond to points raised in the debate.”
The BBC has previously faced questions about how audiences and issues are selected for its political discussion programmes.
Last year, Question Time host Fiona Bruce sparked an online conversation when she told viewers that an episode’s audience had been “carefully” chosen to be pro-Brexit.
The presenter did not say if this episode alone had a pro-Brexit audience as it was filmed in the Aldershot furlough voting area, or if all Question Time audiences were pro-Brexit . The SNP called on the BBC to be “completely transparent” in how its audience members are chosen.
The BBC website says: ‘People ask to be in the audience for Question Time via the website and by phone and producers get in touch to ask questions about their previous vote and future voting intentions , whether they are members of a political party and also how they voted in the EU referendum.
“It’s to make sure that a range of viewpoints are represented in the audience. Sometimes, if the production staff feel that a group or point of view is underrepresented in the applications, they will promote the program through relevant local media channels to encourage people to apply.