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Wednesday 29 Oct 2014

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Full agreement reached for televised Prime Ministerial debates

Joint press release from BBC, ITV and Sky

Three of the UK's main broadcasters and the three biggest political parties have now reached full agreement on televised Prime Ministerial Debates during the 2010 General Election Campaign.

These will be the first such events ever held in the UK.

A set of rules, common to all three programmes, has now been agreed after a round of face-to-face meetings involving representatives from Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties together with executives from ITV, Sky News and the BBC.

All three debates will be broadcast live in mid-evening, weekday slots in front of a studio audience.

Members of the audience will be able to put questions to Gordon Brown, David Cameron and Nick Clegg directly.

Additionally, viewers will be invited to submit their own questions by email in advance of the programmes.

Each broadcaster will be making its own arrangements for inviting questions from viewers.

The programmes will each have a pre-determined theme for half of their airtime. The remaining time will be open to questions on any election issue.

The broadcasters have jointly appointed the market research company ICM to recruit an audience with a broad cross-section of views.

The first debate will be screened on ITV1. Its themed section will be on domestic affairs. This programme will come from the North West of England. It will be moderated by Alastair Stewart.

The second debate will be screened on Sky News. Its themed section will be on international affairs. Adam Boulton will be the moderator, and it will come from the South West of England.

The final debate will be screened on BBC One. David Dimbleby will be the moderator, and its themed section will be on economic affairs. The programme will be based in the Midlands.

The broadcasters drew lots to determine the order of the debates and the allocation of themes.

Representatives of the parties drew lots to determine the order of speaking.

Mr Clegg will open the first debate. Mr Brown will open the second, and Mr Cameron will do so in the third programme.

The exact dates of the programmes will depend on the length of the campaign, and will be announced by the broadcasters once the Prime Minister has formally called the General Election.

There will be no commercial breaks during the programmes.

The parties and broadcasters have agreed to a set of rules governing the debates.

Each party leader will have the opportunity to make an opening statement on the programme's theme before tackling questions. Each leader will answer all of the questions, and be allowed rebuttal time to react to their opponents' answers and make further points of their own. A period of free debate may then follow. They will not have any prior notice of the questions.

Statements, answers and rebuttals are all subject to time restrictions – usually one minute but with a longer closing statement of one minute 30 seconds at the end of each programme.

The broadcasters have agreed to give each leader equal treatment during the programmes, and the primary role of the moderator is to ensure fairness within the agreed rules.

Questions will be chosen by an editorial panel of senior journalists, including the moderator, within each broadcasting company. Questions may be submitted for consideration up to and including the day of the live transmission. The membership of these panels will be made public, but they will meet in private.

Each broadcaster will make its own arrangements about separate and additional debates taking place in Scotland and Wales and the coverage of other parties in the Election.

A spokesperson for the joint Broadcasting Panel said: "We warmly welcome the agreement by the party leaders to take part in these innovative programmes.

"We were delighted by the positive atmosphere in all our dealings with the parties over the last few months, and the agreement we are jointly announcing today represents a major step forward in the way election campaigns can reach the entire population."

Notes to Editors

1. The Broadcaster Panel was made up of two representatives from each network – Sue Inglish and Ric Bailey from the BBC, Michael Jermey and Jonathan Munro from ITV, and Chris Birkett and Jonathan Levy from Sky News.

2. The full rules for the debates will be available online via each broadcaster's website (bbc.co.uk/blogs/theeditors/).

3. The membership of each of the editorial panels, which will select the questions, will be available online on the relevant broadcaster's site.

JS

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