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.
- 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
- 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.