Democracy to be examined and explored across the BBC on Democracy Day

Date: 12.01.2015     Last updated: 20.01.2015 at 12.01
On Tuesday the 20 January 2015 - the 750th anniversary of what is widely recognised as England’s first Parliament, the Montfort parliament – the BBC will broadcast Democracy Day: a day of live events, discussion and debate broadcast from inside Westminster and the BBC Radio Theatre.

Across radio, TV and online, the BBC will look at democracy past and present, ask how democratic we are, and encourage debate about democracy's future.

As part of the day’s offering, BBC Radio 4’s Public Philosopher Professor Michael Sandel will venture inside the Palace of Westminster and challenge an audience of MPs, peers and the public to consider what democracy really means. Sir Tim Berners Lee will talk to BBC News about the importance of open data and an uncensored web to healthy democracy.

Inside the BBC Radio Theatre panels of international academics, writers and politicians will ask if our modern democracy is failing, discuss the relationship between Islam and democracy, talk about how dramas about democracy influence us, look at how Africa may be redefining democracy, and consider the impact technology has had on democracy today.

BBC News will also turn the spotlight on itself, opening up some of its planning meetings to public scrutiny, giving people around the world the chance to comment and contribute to the day’s output. At 8.30am the BBC World Service discusses and plans for the day ahead, followed by the Director of News and Current Affairs, James Harding, with senior editorial staff at 9am, contemplating and debating the day’s news agenda – BBC News is hoping to stream both meetings live online.

Democracy will also be examined and discussed throughout the day across a range of programmes, including Today, the World at One and Woman’s Hour on Radio 4, The One Show on BBC One, Newsbeat, Radio 3, 5 live, BBC Parliament, the BBC News Channel and BBC World News, Focus on Africa and across the BBC World Service. The BBC News website will also be the hub for much of the day’s coverage, streaming live all the events from inside the BBC Radio Theatre. People are also encouraged to join in the discussion on social media using #bbcdemocracyday

Democracy Day is part of the BBC’s Taking Liberties season - a collection of thought-provoking programmes from across the BBC marking the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta, exploring its history and influence, and examining the current state of democracy in a General Election year.


Panel debates and discussion will be held inside the BBC Radio Theatre in London in front of an audience and streamed live on the BBC News website. Some sessions will be shown on other BBC outlets live or at a later time.

Does Democracy Work? 

9:00 – 10:00 GMT

BBC Political Editor Nick Robinson chairs a panel discussion entitled Can Democracy Work? He asks guests whether democracy has been taken over by vested interests, how much devolution do we really want and asks, can the west export their democratic models to the rest of the world? Panellists will include Sadiq Khan, the Labour Shadow Minister for Justice, Douglas Carswell, UKIP MP, Ken Clarke, Conservative MP, Heba Raouf Ezzat from Cairo University and Joan Hoey from the Economist Intelligence Unit. Audience members hear guests debate whether modern democracy is failing and have a chance to ask questions and give their comments. The debate will also be broadcast live on the BBC News Channel.

Is Africa re-inventing Democracy? 

11:00-12:00 GMT

Can Africa redefine democracy? A panel of established African politicians, as well as young entrepreneurs and activists from across the continent will discuss the state of democracy in Africa, whilst exploring whether traditional power structures can be redefined by its youthful population. Panellists are Nana Akufo-Addo from Ghana’s the New Patriotic Party (NPP), Ayat Mneina, Co-Founder and Director of Libyan Youth Movement, Dr. Robtel Neajai Pailey, Researcher at SOAS, University of London and Nigerian entrepreneur Jason Njoku, founder and CEO of African entertainment distribution company, iRoko Partners. The debate will also be broadcast later on Focus on Africa on the BBC World Service and on BBC World News.

Islam and Democracy 

13:00-14:00 GMT

In the aftermath of the Arab Spring democratic change and Islam has become an increasingly important debate. This live debate features guests including Professor Tariq Ramadan, Heba Raouf Ezzat from Cairo University, Douglas Murray, Associate Director of the Henry Jackson Society and Kuwaiti artist and poet Shurooq Amin. BBC News Pakistan Correspondent Shaimaa Khalil will chair the discussion, taking questions from the audience and social media. The debate will be broadcast live on the BBC World Service.

Dramatising Democracy 

14:30-15:30 GMT

Author Michael Dobbs, dramatists James Graham and Paula Milne, and television producer Trudi-Ann Tierney join a panel in the BBC Radio Theatre for a special edition of BBC Radio 3’s Free Thinking (to be broadcast on the programme that evening at 10pm). Anne McElvoy chairs the debate which asks whether dramas like The West Wing, Borgen or This House aid our understanding of the way governments operate - or do they foster cynicism about whether democracy works?


16:30 – 17:30 GMT

BBC World News’ flagship interview show will feature Chinese dissident Wu’er Kaixi in a live interview broadcast from inside the BBC Radio Theatre.

Democracy and Technology 

18:00-19:00 GMT

There’s no question smartphones, social media and cyberspace are changing the way we interact - but how have they impacted the concept of democracy? A panel of global experts will look at how the rise of technology is creating more transparency and giving a voice to the people, but also whether that’s got governments and people in power worried. The panel debate features Twitter’s General Counsel Vijaya Gadde, the social media head of India’s Bharatiya Janata Party, Arvind Gupta, the founder of Sweden’s Pirate Party Rick Falkvinge, and Emma Mulqueeny, founder of Rewired State. Highlights from the debate will be broadcast on Click on the BBC World Service.


The One Show, BBC One 

Monday 19 January, 19:00-19:30 GMT

On the eve of Democracy Day on Monday the 19th of January, The One Show will take viewers behind the scenes at Westminster ahead of Prime Minister’s Question Time. Alex Riley joins the Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow MP, as he prepares to keep order in the bear pit of British democracy.

Today, BBC Radio 4 

6:00-8:30 GMT

The Today programme will set Democracy Day on its way with John Humphrys travelling to the birthplace of democracy and examining the state of politics and freedom in Greece today, and a special report reflecting on the significance of this day 750 years ago when the first parliament met. Thought for the Day will come from the Reverend Rose Hudson-Wilkin, Chaplain to the Speaker of the House of Commons.

The Public Philosopher: Why Democracy? BBC Radio 4 

8.30-9.30 GMT, and 9.00-10.00 GMT on the BBC World Service

Michael Sandel, Professor of Government at Harvard University, is known globally for the rigour he brings to the great ethical and philosophical questions of our time. He skilfully and entertainingly uses live audiences to help address such questions in his popular BBC series The Public Philosopher. In this very special edition Professor Sandel goes inside the Palace of Westminster to explore the nature and limits of democracy, challenging an audience of MPs, Peers and the public to apply some critical thinking to what democracy really means.

Can Democracy Work?, BBC Radio 4 

9:00-9:30 GMT

Is our democracy working? Today there's a real sense of our traditional democratic system fracturing – but is this because it's failing, or is it because it's doing exactly what we want it to? In Can Democracy Work? the BBC's Political Editor Nick Robinson questions top politicians, those seeking power around the UK and direct action campaigners, as well as testing public opinion, to find out what we really want from our democracy and whether it can deliver. In this second episode in the three-part series, Robinson asks if vested interests dominate our democracy and explores why so many in Britain now feel ignored and alienated from politics.

Woman’s Hour, BBC Radio 4 

10:00-10:45 GMT

It’s under a century since women got the vote, but Woman’s Hour will be discovering some of the women who helped shape parliament long before they could take a seat there. Jane Garvey will discuss the role women have played - and the struggle to play a greater one. She will talk to some of the women who work in parliament today and to teenage girls from Girlguiding who have been learning about it for the first time. She hears why they care about parliament and why it matters to them.

BBC Radio 5 live 

10:00-11:30 GMT on 5 live daily

5 live will be looking at what democracy means in football, and asking if any top flight club gives the fans a decisive influence, and My First Vote will hear the stories of people able to vote for the first time looking at key world events including South Africa – post Apartheid, Egypt – post Arab Spring and the Scottish Referendum where 16 year-olds got the vote.

BBC Parliament 

9:30-11:30 GMT

BBC’s Deputy Political Editor James Landale will be joined by political and parliamentary correspondents to explain the work of all the parliaments of the UK and to see them in action. There’ll be live coverage from Holyrood, Stormont, Cardiff Bay, Brussels, the Lords and Commons, and guests in the studio will include those who venerate our political systems together with those who wish to see them undergo dramatic change.

Newsbeat, BBC Radio 1 

12:45 & 17:45 and on

Newsbeat will be looking into the development of electronic voting. Campaigners are calling for its introduction in the UK as part of attempts to boost turnout among young voters. Newsbeat speaks to the British company, Smartmatic, which has developed technology already used in elections in the EU, and will also look at the security risks associated with electronic voting, such as hacking.

BBC News School Report with Newsround, BBC Three 

BBC News School Reporters will be helping Newsround go behind the scenes at Westminster to find out 'what is Parliament?' and they’ll be joining the Public Philosopher Michael Sandel to explore the question, why vote?

Today in Parliament, BBC Radio 4 

23:00-0:00 GMT

As the Democracy Day draws to a close, Sean Curran and Susan Hulme present a special one-hour edition of Today in Parliament, bringing Radio 4 listeners a day in the life of other international Parliaments - from America, India and Russia, as well as in Stormont, Holyrood and Cardiff Bay.

BBC World Service

Discussion, debate and analysis of democracy will feature across the 28 languages of the BBC World Service on Democracy Day. As well as broadcasting live events from the BBC Radio Theatre, highlights of programming throughout the day include:

  • World Have Your Say on BBC World Service English will extend the discussion from the Islam and Democracy Debate earlier hearing from people around the Middle East and the Islamic world on the same theme, but broaden the geographical spread to include Turkey, the Gulf, and Pakistan.
  • BBC Persian will be reporting from the Houses of Parliament in Westminster, giving audiences in Iran, Afghanistan and Tajikistan a glimpse of how the UK Parliament works and what an MP’s day is like.
  • BBC Chinese will explore views on democracy in Taiwan, Hong Kong and China, hosting a Google+ debate about recent protests in Hong Kong and the pro-democracy movement there with reflection and reaction from the region, and an interactive Facebook event will look at the progress of democracy in Taiwan.
  • With a report from Burundi, BBC Africa will take a special look at controversial ‘third terms’, as many Francophone countries in Africa have seen their leaders try to push for constitutional reform to get a third term in power, leading to political crises.

Notes to Editors

Democracy Day is produced in collaboration with the House of Commons and the House of Lords as part of their 2015 Parliament in the Making programme.

Please note broadcast details are correct at the time of issue, but are subject to change.

Tickets to the events inside the BBC Radio Theatre are available to the public through BBC Audience Services.