The BBC is under-fire after handing two 30 minute election specials to Ukip leader Paul Nuttall – despite the party having no MPs and getting a hammering in the local elections.
The broadcaster has revealed details of its election coverage, including a half-hour programme dedicated to Nuttall answering questions from an audience in Bristol at 10.30pm on Sunday June 4 – just 4 days before the election.
Nuttall will also be given a 30 minute grilling by the BBC’s top interviewer Andrew Neill in the coveted 7pm slot on BBC 1 during the week beginning May 22.
Yet while the Ukip leader is a mainstay of the BBC’s election coverage, the Greens have not been given the same opportunity in the ten hours of prime time programming set aside by the broadcaster ahead of June 8 vote.
Jonathan Bartley, co-leader of the Green Party, said: “This decision by the BBC is extremely disappointing. Ukip’s vote collapsed at the local election, while the Greens made net gains across the UK.
“To see Nuttall’s party consistently handed disproportionate coverage by the broadcasters is particularly galling.
“The Green Party should be featured on these shows and the BBC should give people the opportunity to see hear what we have to say.”
He added: “This is getting beyond a joke. The BBC’s love affair with Ukip is getting embarrassing.”
The rules around how much airtime to give political parties have changed since the 2015 General Election.
In that vote, broadcaster regulator Ofcom distinguished between large and small parties, with the former guaranteed more coverage.
For this election, broadcasters can make their own decisions based on evidence of current and previous election support.
Whereas Ukip picked up 3.9million votes in 2015 – totaling 13% of all cast – it’s fortunes at the ballot box have diminished over the past two years.
In last week’s local elections, the party lost all 146 seats it was defending, and picked up just one councillor, in Lancashire.
The Greens secured 21 seats across England and Wales – an increase of one compared to when the elections were held four years ago.
The party also has an MP – Brighton Pavilion’s Caroline Lucas – whereas Ukip’s only MP Douglas Carswell quit the party in March claiming it was “job done” for the anti-EU organisation.
In March, HuffPost UK analysis revealed Ukip appeared on almost one in four of the BBC’s flagship Question Time programmes in the past seven years - despite never having more than two MPs.
Of the 258 regular Question Time shows from May 6 2010 to March 28, the anti-EU party had a representative on 24% of the programmes.
Lib Dem leader Tim Farron told HuffPost UK: “This seat on Question Time will hopefully be the last seat Ukip will win, especially considering Theresa May has adopted wholesale the policies of Nigel Farage.”
A Ukip spokesman defended the airtime being given to the party, and said: “At the last election despite obvious huge growth in Ukip’s supporter base, broadcasters were very restrictive.
“Now we are being rewarded for winning the last European Election and getting near 4 million votes at the last General Election.
“The Greens, despite a smattering of Council gains last week, are still polling well below Ukip nationally.
“Nice try Jonathan.”
The BBC’s election coverage includes two Question Time Specials hosted by David Dimbleby, in which leaders will face audience questions consecutively.
The first will be with Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn on Friday June 2, and the second with Tim Farron and Nicola Sturgeon Sunday June 4.
Throughout the week of May 22, BBC 1 will air a series of prime time Andrew Neil Interviews at 7pm.
They will be one-to-one interviews with Theresa May, Jeremy Corbyn, Tim Farron, Paul Nuttall and Nicola Sturgeon. A sixth interview with Leanne Wood will air on BBC One in Wales.