Nigel Farage speaks at the UKIP 2014 Spring Conference at the Riviera International on March 1, 2014 in Torquay. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Ukip named as a “major party” by Ofcom for European elections

The decision means the party will now be entitled to equal levels of TV coverage as the other main parties.

Ahead of the European elections on 22 May, Ofcom has announced that broadcasters will be required to treat Ukip as a “major party” for the contest. The significance of this decision is that it will now be entitled to an equal amount of Party Election Broadcasts (PEBs) as Labour, the Tories and the Lib Dems. The ruling, however, will not apply to Scotland-only programming due to Ukip’s low level of support in the country. Here’s the Ofcom statement in full: 

We have consulted on an appropriate approach for determining the composition of the list of major parties ahead of the elections taking place on 22 May 2014.

Our decision is that the United Kingdom Independence Party (“UKIP”) should be added to the list of major parties in England and in Wales for the 2014 European Parliament elections.

The practical effect of this decision is as follows:

  • Broadcasters transmitting PEBs on a UK/Great Britain-wide basis (such as Channel 5 in the European Parliamentary elections) will be obliged to treat UKIP as a major party across the whole of England, Wales and Scotland (ie Great Britain) as a whole.
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  • STV will not be required to treat UKIP as a major party for the purposes of broadcasting Scotland-only PEBs. This reflects the fact that UKIP has low levels of support in Scotland. However, ITV Wales will have to treat UKIP as a major party for the purposes of broadcasting Wales-only PEBs, reflecting the fact that UKIP has significant levels of support in Wales 
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  • In news and current affairs election programming that focuses on the European Parliamentary elections across England, Wales and Scotland (i.e. Great Britain) as a whole, UKIP will be treated as a major party across the whole of England, Wales and Scotland (i.e. Great Britain). However, in news and current affairs election programming that focuses on the European Parliamentary elections in just Scotland, UKIP will not be treated as a major party in such programming.

The decision will intensify the debate over whether Ukip should be regarded as a major party for the 2015 general election. While it has no MPs (in contrasts to its nine MEPs), some will argue that it should be included on the list if it continues to lead the Lib Dems in most opinion polls (and Ofcom appears to have taken its current poll ratings into account). Were Ukip to be classified as a major party, it would make it far harder (and even impossible) to exclude Nigel Farage from any TV leaders’ debates. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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The Manchester attack will define this election: Broadcasters have a careful line to tread

It's right that the government should be given a chance to respond, but they must not be allowed to use it to campaign.

Every election campaign has its story, its place in the political history of this country. 2017 will forever be known for Manchester and the horror of the attack on Britain's young; and fighting terrorism will be a theme, overt or underlying, of what we see and hear between now and polling day.

The broadcasters have covered the events comprehensively yet sensitively. But they are aware that we're in an election campaign too; and when other news drives aside the carefully-balanced campaign formats, ministerial appearances give them a dilemma.

The fact is that what the Prime Minister and Home Secretary are doing in response to Manchester is newsworthy. It was Theresa May's duty to implement the recommendations of her security advisers on the elevation of the terror alert, and it would have been unthinkable for the news channels not to broadcast her various statements.

But it is also true that, if the bomb hadn't been detonated, Tuesday would have been a day in which the PM would have been under relentless damaging scrutiny for her u-turn on social care. All the opposition parties would have been in full cry across the airwaves. Yet in the tragic circumstances we found ourselves, nobody could argue that Downing Street appearances on the terror attack should prompt equal airtime for everyone from Labour to Plaid Cymru.

There are precedents for ministers needing to step out of their party roles during a campaign, and not be counted against the stopwatch balance of coverage. Irish terrorism was a factor in previous elections and the PM or Northern Ireland secretary were able to speak on behalf of the UK government. It applied to the foot and mouth epidemic that was occupying ministers' time in 2001. Prime ministers have gone to foreign meetings before, too. Mrs Thatcher went to an economic summit in photogenic Venice with her soulmate Ronald Reagan three days before the 1987 election, to the irritation of Neil Kinnock.

There are plenty of critics who will be vigilant about any quest for party advantage in the way that Theresa May and Amber Rudd now make their TV and radio appearances; and it’s inevitable that a party arguing that it offers strength and stability will not object to being judged against these criteria in extreme and distressing times.

So it's necessary for both broadcasters and politicians to be careful, and there are some fine judgements to be made. For instance, it was completely justifiable to interview Amber Rudd about the latest information from Manchester and her annoyance with American intelligence leaks. I was less comfortable with her being asked in the same interview about the Prevent strategy, and with her response that actions would follow "after June", which edges into party territory and would be a legitimate area to seek an opposition response.

When the campaigning resumes, these challenges become even greater. Deciding when the Prime Minister is speaking for the government and nation, or when she is leader of the Conservative Party, will never be black and white. But I would expect to see the broadcast bulletins trying to draw clearer lines about what is a political report and what is the latest from Manchester or from G7. They must also resist any efforts to time ministerial pronouncements with what's convenient for the party strategists' campaign grid.

There might also usefully be more effort to report straight what the parties are saying in the final days, with less spin and tactical analysis from the correspondents. The narrative of this election has been changed by tragedy, and the best response is to let the politicians and the public engage as directly as possible in deciding what direction the nation should now take.

Roger Mosey is the Master of Selwyn College, Cambridge. He was formerly editorial director and the director of London 2012 at the BBC.

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