Liberal Democrats are being excluded from referendum debate – don’t put up with this

We Liberal Democrats are used to not getting our fair share of media attention. Since last year’s general election, that has got even worse. However, we still aren’t getting anything like the coverage we should have based on our size.

Research carried out by the University of Loughborough during the EU referendum campaign shows that we are only being included in 1% of both press and broadcast media. Mind you, the official opposition doesn’t fare that much better, although that has definitely changed in the last few days.

Coverage by party during EU Ref


If you were thinking that there was a gross over-representation of right wing men, the study confirms your instincts.

The debate is highly presidential in character, focussing on key individuals. The top six individuals are all right-of-centre and are all men. Despite concern expressed by left-of-centre and female politicians about media coverage it’s still largely a ‘Tory story’ and a male dominated, ‘blue-on-blue’ tale at that.

So who are the main media performers?

Top 20 media performers

There is no Liberal Democrat in over 1000 recorded media performances. We’ve not had anyone on the Andrew Marr Show at all during the short campaign.

You don’t even get to a woman until Priti Patel at number 10, and there’s only 6 out of 20.

All the women together have appeared less often than Nigel Farage alone.

Funnily enough, the research also reveals that the Express, Mail and Telegraph had the least balanced coverage of the Referendum, although it surprised me that they reckoned 1 in 5 articles in the Express was balanced.

Media short-changing viewers

Just 8 days from the most important democratic decision we have ever made, we can see that the media distort the coverage by excluding half the population and anyone to the left of David Cameron. That makes for a really narrow focus.

Liberal Democrats have a completely different point of view on the EU that is simply not being heard and that positive view might actually encourage people to engage.

It’s not just the referendum

And in case you were thinking that we were getting our fair share most of the time and just being pushed out for this, then think again.

Let’s look at Question Time since the election. On only 9 occasions has there been a Lib Dem on the panel compared to 17 UKIP and 19 SNP. Even the Greens have had 5 appearances.

So what can we do about it?

From my experience, Lib Dems are very good at moaning about this to each other, but not so much to the organisations at fault. Maybe we should complain more often to the BBC and OFCOM, the organisation which regulates the other broadcasters. I am no stranger to the BBC Complaints form although you do have to keep on top of them because they are not very good at replying in any sort of meaningful terms. You can complain to OFCOM here.

The future of our country is at stake and only a few voices are being heard. We don’t have long to try and change this. In order to have any sort of overall balance, they would have to ban Farage, Cameron, Gove and Johnson from the telly for the next week. That surely wouldn’t be a bad thing.


* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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  • Does this really surprise anyone?
    The UK oligarch are centralising political and economic power in London. The main stream media is just part of this.
    This is a plan that wealth and power will be concentrated in the 1% (and the even the 0.001%) at the expense of 99+%.
    What is wrong is that the BBC should follow this conspiracy of the financial, political and media oligarchs, after all we are forced to pay a licence fee for what?
    This why I get my news from try it.
    Incidently, from the analysis on I decided to use my postal vote to VOTE REMAIN in the EU, after listening to both arguments presented on RT.

  • Peter Watson 15th Jun '16 - 12:46pm

    The top of the list is no surprise, but on the Exit side of the debate I have heard more from Gisela Stuart than the list suggests, and it does not mention Andrea Leadsom or Suzanne Evans.

    Coverage of individual parties would never be proportional (some are exponentially more interesting than others!). As far as the Lib Dem appearances are concerned, I am not sure that 1% is hideously unfair. The party is only on one side of the debate, so a more representative 7-8% of the 50% of coverage for Remain is not much more. UKIP make up a large part of just one side of the debate so would be expected to receive a lot of coverage.
    Given civil war in the Tory party and the BBC’s love of anti-Corbyn conspiracies in the Labour party, it’s no surprise that the two largest parties dominate what media coverage there is. The Conservatives govern England, Labour in Wales, SNP in Scotland, so again they would (and should) figure highly. Sadly, the Lib Dems have become a very minor player in this debate.

  • Didn’t the Telegraph debate have your man Nick Clegg on? (why not your current leader?).
    Wasn’t Catherine Bearder on Paxman’s Who Really Rules Us?

  • It’s a bit late to kick off now – though Bercow has a lot to answerfor too. Nor can it be said that non-dom tax exile media proprietors are natural Liberals. On Europe, “Me too” is not very compelling. Eight Shetland fishing boats wouldn’t have fared very well in the Battle of Jutland however gallant and eager they may have been.

    What is needed post referendum is a compelling radical critique of modern society. If we said something interesting on the abuse of power and tax dodging by modern multinational corporations and the top 1% we might just get an audience. Would you buy a used car from Sir Phillip Green ?

  • P.S. Stand by for an October General Election if Brexit wins – or maybe even if it doesn’t.

  • ……………….However, we still aren’t getting anything like the coverage we should have based on our size……………..

    Imagine how Labour feels……The most reasoned/calm speech I saw came from Corbyn…It was hardly reported; the supposedly ‘balanced’ BBC coverage focussed on one hostile question (along the, “Have you stopped beating your wife”, line) from Laura Kuenssberg…..

    The media have turned what is, perhaps the most critical/historical event in our recent history into a ‘shouty-shouty’ circus from both sides…I suppose it is not surprising (considering that most media outlets are pro-Exit) and the loudest ‘shouters’ are Brexit even though their facts are the weakest plank in their campaign…

  • David Raw
    Hear hear to your last comment – I just hope that Labour, in particular, have given thought to how they fight such an election. We need to do the same, or I could foresee further slaughter. Caron I am with you on the need to keep our profile up, especially if such an event does occur. A split, formal or informal, in the Tories is all but guaranteed now, I think.
    Peter Watson Think again about the Lib Dems “all being on one side” They / we are not.

  • David Blake 15th Jun '16 - 2:27pm

    The whole campaign, on both sides, has been of the lowest moments in our country’s political history.

  • Peter Watson 15th Jun '16 - 3:21pm

    @Tim13 “Think again about the Lib Dems “all being on one side” They / we are not.”
    I appreciate from discussions on this site that some individual Lib Dems are for “Exit” or “undecided”. However, the public face of the Lib Dems is very much “The Party of IN”.
    If the media profile of the party’s “In” campaigning is small, its “Out” campaign is non-existent.

  • Some fairly senior local Lib Dems are for Out, actually. But yes, publicity for any sort of Lib Dem is minimal going on negative at present.

  • Eddie Sammon 15th Jun '16 - 6:14pm

    I have noticed a clear absence of Lib Dems from the national EU debate. But to be honest I am quite glad Tim Farron hasn’t received much media coverage. On the day net-immigration was announced at 333,000 Tim went on Question Time and couldn’t really see what the problem was.

    Paddy, Shirley Williams and Nick Clegg have had more success. But Nick can alienate the majority on this topic too, so probably best leaving it to Paddy, Shirley, Ming and others. Anyone who wants to come up with a winning argument.

  • Stevan Rose 15th Jun '16 - 6:44pm

    This is not a party contest, it’s about pooling the talent and picking who is best to get the desired end result. For the purposes of this campaign I am not a Lib Dem, I am a Remain supporter in common purpose with anyone of that persuasion regardless of their long term allegiance.

    Remain needs to put forward it’s best media performers not the two most unpopular Prime Ministers in history and the current old Etonian and his next door neighbour who are not known for their ability to appeal to the common man. Alan Johnson, Nicola Sturgeon, Ruth Davidson, Paddy. Rotate those 4 and we might have half a chance at pulling things back. If we don’t it’s probably curtains and over to Plan B.

  • If we vote out, it will not be simple. The 5 year rule suggests a new governmwent could be formed even if it was not Conservative.

  • David Evershed 15th Jun '16 - 8:54pm

    There was a good debate on Daily Politics between Lib Dem LEAVE and Lib Dem REMAIN.

    Each side claimed to be closer to Liberal principles of localism, free trade, and being outward looking to the world.

  • Richard Underhill 15th Jun '16 - 10:52pm

    Hilton has just said on Newsnight that Cameron was elected as PM. Not actually. Elected as an MP first past the post. Israel had directly elected PMs at one stage.

  • Philip Rolle 15th Jun '16 - 11:10pm

    Maybe a low profile will be to the party’s advantage in this case?

  • @smallholder – RT is owned and run by supporters of Vladimir Putin and is about as balanced as the Daily Mail. Putin wants Britain out of the EU to destablise it.

    I’m not surprised about Question Time – that seems almost proportionate to the size of the party in the Commons – and frankly it’s not a programme which appeals to the masses.

  • Richard Underhill 16th Jun '16 - 8:20am

    Tim Farron spoke at PMQ on 15/6/2016. He referred to the risk of people losing their jobs and consequentially becoming homeless if the UK leaves the EU. All the party leaders who spoke and most of the MPs who spoke supported Remaining in the EU.
    There were mentions of Northern Ireland. The 2015 general election had produced an Official Unionist following a pact in some constituencies between the DUP and the OUP. David Cameron said that the OUP support Remain. An SDLP MP (non-violent nationalist) asked about the open border with the Irish Republic in the event of the UK voting to leave the EU. Cameron spelled out the options and recommended voting Remain.
    The electoral pact in 2015 had achieved its objectives in that the anti sectarian Alliance Party of Northern Ireland lost their excellent MP. Sinn Fein also lost an MP. It would be better if MPs in Northern Ireland were elected by the system they use to elect councillors, assembly members and MEPs, STV.

  • There is also the point that “Liberal Democrats oppose Brexit” has about as much news value as “Quakers oppose war”. But there is (was?) an opportunity here. Social media and leaflets aren’t controlled by the media empires. Women, young people and minority ethnic groups see the debate and wonder where people like them are? Let the output we individually and collectively control give them voices.

  • J George SMID 16th Jun '16 - 6:30pm

    Some references to how British press is covering (and is covered) by EU Referendum:
    Where the British Press stands on Brexit (Politico)

    Brexit would trigger second Scottish referendum within three years, Alex Salmond warns (The Telegraph)

    Paul Dacre’s EU subsidies hypocrisy won’t halt the Daily Mail’s Euro-lies (The Guardian)

    Why is the British Press so overwhelmingly pro-Brexit? (VICE)

    EU referendum: Could the UK media swing it one way or another? (Independent)

  • Stephen Hesketh 19th Jun '16 - 2:20pm

    @David Raw 15th Jun ’16 – 1:22pm

    “What is needed post referendum is a compelling radical [[LIBERAL DEMOCRAT]] critique of modern society. If we said something interesting on the abuse of power and tax dodging by modern multinational corporations and the top 1% we might just get an audience”

    [[My insertion]] 100% agreement David. The electorate just aren’t getting an alternative socio-economic analysis and message from our party.

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