Rob appeared on BBC Radio Scotland’s flagship breakfast programme, Good Morning Scotland, to discuss the controversy around the ITV Leaders Debate between Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn (Tuesday 19 November 2019).
It followed the court rulings which ended hopes of the SNP and Lib-Dems of appearing alongside the other two candidates.
Rob said he had ‘bumped’ into Alistair Campbell (Tony Blair’s former spin doctor) in the BBC reception and they reminisced on how many times Labour had threatened to injunct Rob and Granada TV over election coverage starting back in 1995 with the Littleborough and Saddleworth by-election and it continued with other political parties as well.
‘It’s always difficult’, Rob said, ‘tensions rise during elections, but with so many outlets and programmes it’s important broadcasters have the right to invite who they wish to participate’.
He said that impartiality can be achieved over a number of programmes not just a single broadcast, but the ITV debate gives viewers across the UK the chance to see the two most likely candidates for Number 10 close up and to see if they will ‘sweat’ under pressure from questions from the audience and in the debate.
He also said that broadcasters were criticised during the referendum on the EU for simply interpreting ‘impartiality’ as giving A then B a chance to speak without the journalistic rigour of analysing what they were saying and claiming.
As a reporter, he recalled that the Representation of the People’s Act allowed candidates from the fringe to block constituency profiles which hampered coverage and that blocked the necessary rigour – over-emphasis on impartiality in a single programme did the same.
He said that there are other formats on offer which will give that reach but that he understood the SNP’s frustration in Scotland’s unique circumstances.
Rob is a former editor of political programmes for Granada TV and hosted election, political and current affairs programmes on the channel from 1994 to 2016.