Union condemns BNP broadcast

BECTU has pledged to support members who refuse to co-operate with a broadcast by the British National Party.

The programme, a Party Political Broadcast in connection with the European Electons on 10 June, is due to be transmitted on Friday 21 May. UK broadcasters allow political parties airtime prior to elections according to the number of candidates put forward.

BECTU's General Secretary has called on the BBC's Director General to pull the transmission, and warned that staff who refuse to work on the broadcast as a matter of conscience will be given support by the union.

Read union statement

ITV companies have always claimed that under Section 36 of the 1990 Broadcasting Act, they are legally obliged to transmit PPBs from fringe parties, whether or not they approve. However, the unions believe that the BBC is legally free to ban PPBs, a view that has been confirmed by the BBC in their reply to the union's call for the programmed to be pulled.

Read BBC's response

Anti-racist demonstrators are planning a protest outside the BBC's London Broadcasting House at 5pm on Friday 21 May, a few hours before the broadcast is scheduled.

Information about the protest

Statement from BECTU's General Secretary


Dear Colleague


I have been informed by the National Assembly Against Racism that the British National Party are to be allowed a party political broadcast on the BBC this coming Friday. I have written to the Director General of the BBC, Sir John Birt, pointing out the distress that such a broadcast will cause against the background of the recent bombings in Soho, Brixton and Brick Lane. I have also pointed out to him that the BBC, according to the legal advice I have received, are not under any obligation to carry a party political broadcast from the British National Party. I have urged the Director General not to allow this broadcast to go ahead.

In the event that the BBC decide to ignore the protest and outrage and allow this broadcast to go ahead, BECTU will not for legal reasons be asking its members to take any form of industrial action. BECTU does have a long-standing policy of supporting any individual who refuses to work on any programme as a matter of personal conscience.

Roger Bolton,
General Secretary

20 May 1999

Reply from BBC's Political Adviser

20th May 1999

Dear Mr Bolton,

Thank you for your letter of l9th May addressed to the Director General. As he is abroad I am replying on his behalf.

May I explain the situation over Party election broadcasts.

The broadcasters including the BBC propose a threshold for parties to reach in order to qualify for a single broadcast. The threshold for this election is the highest it is possible to set, in that they must field a full slate of candidates on every regional list. In England this means 71, in Scotland 8, in Wales 5. Across the UK as a whole 19 parties have qualified for a broadcast. In England, in addition to the three main parties, 6 minor parties have reached this threshold. They are the Green Party, the Pro Euro Conservative Party, United Kingdom Independence Party, the Natural Law Party, the Socialist Labour Party and the British National Party.

Once a party has qualified, they are allocated a broadcast. You are right in saying that there is no formal legal obligation to carry any party political broadcast. But, in the absence of paid political advertising in this country there is a long standing practice that the broadcasters make time available to political parties at election times so that they may address the electorate direct through the medium of television. The whole point of PPBs is that they are unmediated by the broadcasters. They are not our programmes. They do not represent our values. Broadcasting them does not imply support for their content. The views of the BBC are not represented by any single political party, nor could they ever be.

Having said that, PPBs do have to conform to rules laid down by all broadcasters, a copy of which I enclose. You will note that they are quite explicit about observing the law on incitement to racial hatred and violence.

I can assure you that both the BBC and the ITV companies are taking great care, in close co-operation with each other, to ensure that these rules are observed by all parties, in this election.

Anne Sloman
Chief Political Adviser
British Broadcasting Corporation.

20 May 1999
Page updated 21 May 1999