BBC bans the word “reform” from the AV electoral reform debate


Fair Votes

Image by qatsi via Flickr

In an unusual and perhaps unjustifiable move, the BBC has banned the use of the word “reform” when describing the debate over electoral reform.

As many will know, there is currently a debate over the future referendum on whether to change the current voting system from “first past the post” to a system dubbed the “alternative vote” (AV). As many will undoubtably agree, this change in the voting system will indeed be an “electoral reform”, however a leaked internal memo from the BBC  shows how the corporation views the word “reform” to carry too positive a meaning.

In the leaked memo, Ric Bailey, the corporation’s chief political advisor, says: “Please can we make sure that we don’t describe this – in our own scripts, headlines, etc – as the referendum on ‘electoral reform’. When the [BBC’s] Guidance is published ahead of the referendum period, it will make clear that, in the context of the referendum, that is not an impartial term – ‘reform’ explicitly contains a definition of ‘improvement’.”

The move has angered supporters of the “Yes” campaign for the AV, and rightly so. “This is ridiculous, but consistent, behaviour from the management of the BBC,” said Paul Sinclair, the director of communications for the ‘Yes’ campaign.

“If BBC managers are suggesting that by using the word ‘reform’ in ‘electoral reform’ they are implicitly recommending it to viewers and listeners, then by their own standards they have spent the last week advocating the Government’s NHS reforms and the Government’s education reforms before that because that is what they have called the measures.”

This is a fair point, and it does appear as if the BBC are singling out the AV campaign whilst using the ‘overly-positive’ word “reform” for other governmental measures. Perhaps the “No” campaign have got to the BBC?

Yes to Fairer Votes are writing a letter to the BBC condemning this action, which you can sign here: Reform” isn’t a dirty word: Cosign our letter to the BBC.

Paul Sinclair added: “Adopting the alternative vote is electoral reform. There is no other way to describe it. We have consistently had problems with the BBC where they have refused to take our spokespeople. They even allowed the ‘No’ campaign to dictate who we could put up against them. A ‘No’ campaigner was allowed to insist that they didn’t face a Labour MP who was representing the ‘Yes’ campaign. This cannot be described as impartial or even-handed behaviour.

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