The BBC has pulled an episode of Have I Got News For You because of impartiality fears ahead of the European elections – just 24 hours after it hosted an episode of Question Time featuring the Brexit Party’s leader.
It decided to cancel the airing of the show, presented by Jo Brand and recorded the day before, because it realised it could break impartiality rules because Heidi Allen from Change UK was on the panel.
The show’s production team took to social media to apologise, as viewers turned on BBC One to find a repeat of Would I Lie To You instead.
In the statement it said: “Sorry everyone. The BBC have pulled tonight’s edition of #HIGNFY – no, we didn’t book Danny Baker. We booked Heidi Allen, a member of a party no-one knows the name of (not even the people in it), because the Euro elections, which nobody wants, may or may not be happening. Sorry.”
The broadcaster was criticised for cancelling the programme when it had featured Brexit Party leader and candidate Nigel Farage the day before, and was set to host him again days later for The Andrew Marr Show.
It was allowed to air because of different rules for current affairs programmes to light entertainment shows, and other politicians appeared alongside Farage to provide balance. It can also be argued he is appearing as a party spokesman not a candidate.
It, however, did not stop the complaints on social media following the announcement.
One Twitter user said: “So Farage can spew bile unchallenged on Question Time 34 times, but HIGNFY gets cancelled because Heidi Allen is not allowed to speak. But never mind let’s appease the gammon brigade with Mrs. Brown’s Boys.”
Another wrote: “The red carpet rolled out for Farage last night on an actual political commentary show, whereas Heidi Allen appearing on a satirical panel show is deemed an unacceptable bias.”
Others believed the appearance of Tory MP Johnny Mercer in a previous episode would have broken election purdah, but it was still aired.
Change UK’s Allen herself tweeted demanding an explanation.
She said: “Maybe I’m just not as funny as Nigel Farage eh #HIGNFY!? He’s so funny, he seems to be on the BBC all the time! An explanation would be appreciated, not least to acknowledge the hard work of the entire crew who worked diligently to put the show together.”
A spokesperson for the BBC justified the cancellation by telling The New European: “The BBC has specific editorial guidelines that apply during election periods.
“Because of this it would be inappropriate to feature political party leaders on entertainment programmes during this short election period, which does not allow for equal representation to be achieved.
“So we will not broadcast the scheduled episode of HIGNFY featuring Heidi Allen, leader of Change UK.”
It added: “We will look to broadcast this episode at a later date.”
An unhappy source at the programme told this newspaper: “The BBC told us late this afternoon that they had decided to pull the show. This was because Heidi Allen was on the panel, and, in their judgement, we’re officially in an election period. And she’s officially a party leader.
“To be fair, you can forgive the BBC Editorial Policy Unit for having overlooked that fact until now (including when they came along to the recording last night).”
It added the debacle would be feature heavily in next week’s programme, if it is allowed to be aired.