The BBC, ITV and Channel 4 have made a joint announcement on plans for debates in this year's General Election, which is only weeks away - and they have jointly bottled it.
There will indeed be a live, seven-way debate, which will be broadcast on ITV on April 2nd. The seven leaders will be: David Cameron (Conservative), Ed Miliband (Labour), Nick Clegg (Liberal Democrat), Nigel Farage (UKIP), Nicola Sturgeon (SNP), Natalie Bennett (Greens) and Leanne Wood (Plaid Cymru). The live two hour debate will be moderated by Julie Etchingham.
That is where the term debate ceases to be of any relevance.
Prior to the live debate on ITV, Sky News and Channel 4 will air their live "chat" format with David Cameron and Ed Miliband. It will be broadcast on 26th March. The 90 minute programme presented by Jeremy Paxman and Kay Burley will feature separate interviews with David Cameron and Ed Miliband. A studio audience will also put questions directly to the two leaders seeking to be Prime Minister. The leaders will not debate with each other during the programme.
The BBC will hold a "sort of" debate. Basically, the debate on the BBC on 16th April, will be an opposition leaders' debate - or in other words, a full debate without the Prime Minister David Cameron. It's basically the BBC empty-chairing the Prime Minister, without having the empty chair, or indeed podium. Quite the cop-out really.
The BBC will however air a special edition of 'Question Time' with David Dimbleby, featuring David Cameron, Ed Miliband, and Nick Clegg answering questions from the audience. The snag is, each leader will appear separately on the programme, which is to be broadcast on 30th April.
A spokesperson for the broadcasters said: "We're delighted that there will be a debate with all the party leaders during the election campaign. The debate on 2nd April will build on the success of the 2010 TV debates which were so highly valued by viewers.
"We're very pleased to be able to offer viewers an extensive range of programmes, across the four channels, featuring the party leaders interacting directly with voters during the campaign."
Debates? What Debates?
This announcement is only showing the broadcasters as fickle and at the whim of Number 10. The broadcasters have basically agreed with the demands of the Prime Minister's spin-doctors, in that there will be only one true debate, between a platform of 'every man and his dog', along with a truck-load of other formats in which the Prime Minister cannot be directly cross-examined.
The BBC I feel have the most to be ashamed about; the threat to empty-chair the Prime Minister fell on deaf ears, and it turned out to be an empy-threat. The BBC debate will go ahead without the Prime Minister, and without an empty chair representing him.
I'm afraid BBC - you are only showing yourselves up as impotent and rather patheic.
Over at Sky News and Channel 4, well they have a "chat show" format, which whilst not a debate, should enable the producers to put some pressure on the party leaders. One would hope that with Jeremy Paxman doing the questioning, these programmes should produce some interesting watching. It is however, a cop out. Of all the broadcasters I'd have expected to stand up to Number 10, I would have put good money on Sky News and Channel 4.
It's a sad day for the media in the United Kingdom. It's a sad day indeed. It's the day where politicians and political parties have proven that they can control the media.