The BBC has strongly denied claims of a ‘fix’ after controversy raged online following the appearance of a newly elected Conservative councillor in the audience of a Question Time episode filmed in Edinburgh this week.
Eric Holford, who was elected to South Lanarkshire Council last week, appeared on the flagship BBC current affairs, where he asked the panel their views on the leaked Labour manifesto which he said threatened to take Britain back to ‘the nightmare of the 1970s’.
Cllr Holford, who was invited by host David Dimbleby name to ask the first pre-selected question of the show, was then given the opportunity to react to the answers given by the panel, and engaged in a back-and-forth about nurse’s pay with a fellow audience member.
The former candidate for the Scottish Parliament didn’t mention on the broadcast that he was a Conservative Councillor.
Viewers who noticed the politicians quickly raised questions on social media, with some accusing the BBC of calling in Mr Holford as a ‘plant’.
SNP activist Catriona Mackenzie, herself a newly elected councillor, wrote on Twiter: “Sitting Conservative councillor in #bbcqt audience asked questions- and was asked to comment on panel responses. Really, @bbcquestiontime?”
She also added that when she was due to take part in the programme, her invite was rescinded when she revealed she worked in the office of an SNP politician.
Ms Mackenzie’s original tweet was retweeted nearly 3,000 times, with many users claiming that it was further proof of BBC bias against either independence, Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party, or both.
One Twitter user wrote: “The first question on #bbcqt was asked by a tory councillor - anyone who thinks that the #BBC aren’t biased are kidding themselves”
Some on the social networking site even expressed anger that Cllr Holford, who is disabled and confined to a wheelchair, was given a ‘front row’ seat on the programme, which is produced by outside company Mentorn Media.
The BBC said that any suggestion that Eric Holford was ‘planted’ in the audience was entirely wrong – and noted that a range of views were expressed on the episode, which featured former SNP MP Joanna Cherry and actor David Hayman.
The standard form for audience members on BBC panel shows like Question Time does ask whether applicants are active members of political parties, but doesn’t exclude them on that basis.
On accusations of bias regarding Thursday’s programme, a BBC Spokesperson said: “The Question Time audience is always chosen to ensure broad political balance and each application goes through the same rigorous background checks.
Nobody is barred and it is common for those interested or active in politics from all sides to participate.”
It is the second ‘bias’ controversy to hit the corporation in just a week after they were accused by senior SNP figures of deliberately misreporting the party’s standing in the local elections after the BBC’s results page showed the SNP losing six seats due to boundary changes.