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Friday 6 March 2015

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TUSC reaches 100 seat target - now let's see what 'fair media coverage' means

The Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) has reached the broadcasting authorities' threshold for 'fair media coverage' in May's general election.

The latest approvals by the TUSC national steering committee take the number of parliamentary candidates to 111. A full list of those agreed so far can be found at www.tusc.org.uk/txt/324.pdf. TUSC will have the sixth biggest presence on the ballot papers in May.

This number of candidates, with more to come, is well over the threshold for a party to receive 'fair media coverage', including a TV broadcast, of standing in one sixth of the seats up for election. Now we will see what the broadcasters mean by 'fair coverage'.

The BBC, and the establishment media generally, know that TUSC exists. This week, for example, we were contacted by a journalist working for BBC One's Election Night programme with David Dimbleby, asking if one of our candidates would be available for interview on the night of May 7th/8th. An interview before the ballot boxes had closed, on the other hand - or, God forbid, a panellist on Dimbleby's Question Time programme - was obviously impossible.

And they use all types of arguments to justify the minimum possible coverage. In 2012 we complained to the BBC that it was giving greater coverage to the BNP and the English Democrats than TUSC despite the fact that TUSC was standing more candidates in that year's council elections than they were (which was also the case in 2013 and 2014).

One of the justifications given by a 'Complaints Advisor' was that the English Democrats had "broadened their message, campaigning for tax cuts and more directly elected mayors as well as an English parliament". This apparently gave "their campaigning topicality" which was why their coverage was greater.

Two years later we again complained that the English Democrats had received more coverage than TUSC, despite us fielding 560 candidates in the biggest left-of-Labour challenge in local elections for 60 years. This time, we were told by the BBC's Chief Political Advisor, 'political messages' - 'broadened' or not - had no bearing on the 'objective criteria' used to determine coverage. "The nature of each party's political perspective (with reference to your point about TUSC being 'left of Labour') cannot be an influence in making impartial editorial judgements", he said.

In reality the main 'criteria' for the media elite - a vital part of the political establishment - are not to allow a real alternative to austerity to be properly heard. Playing up UKIP's 'anti-establishment' posturing, for example, is one thing - significantly UKIP's recently appointed director of communications is a former BBC producer. But allowing trade unionists, socialists and working class community campaigners a voice is something else.

But not all journalists, in broadcast and print, will share that view. There are over 5,000 journalists, for example, who work for BBC news and current affairs. With the candidate threshold reached, they will have more editorial independence to include TUSC in their reports, if they are approached. So now the campaign for really 'fair coverage' begins.