Newsreader Julie Etchingham: chairing seven-way election debate will be “complex”

ITV's moderator says that the controversial leaders' debate will be difficult to manage but there are advantages

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ITV newsreader Julie Etchingham has admitted that this year’s seven-way TV election debate will be “complex” to moderate, but says she is prepared to grill David Cameron and the six other party leaders.

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Etchingham will host the one and only televised leaders’ debate to include the Prime Minister on ITV on Thursday 2nd April, featuring David Cameron, Labour’s Ed Miliband, Lib Dem Nick Clegg, Ukip’s Nigel Farage, Green Party’s Natalie Bennett, SNP’s Nicola Sturgeon and Plaid Cymru’s Leanne Wood.

Etchingham said it would be a challenge to moderate a debate featuring so many people, but believes there will also be “benefits”.

“It’s undoubtedly more complex [than the original proposal], purely because you’re dealing with more people,” she told Radio Times. “But the upside is that you allow a greater range of voices. You have to find a way of overcoming the complexities, and finding the benefits, and getting those voices heard. If I have to be quite sharp in making sure that people stick to their timings, then I will be.”

The two-hour debate will be broadcast live and will feature questions from the studio audience, with each leader given an opportunity to give an uninterrupted answer before the question is opened up for moderated debate.

The party leaders will not know the questions in advance, but they will be pre-approved by a special ITV selection panel.

This debate will be the only one to feature both prime minister David Cameron and Labour leader Ed Miliband, after broadcasters and political parties failed to agree over the details of a separate head-to-head debate.

Cameron and Miliband will take part separately in a 90-minute Q&A programme airing on Channel 4 and Sky on 26th March, presented by Jeremy Paxman and Kay Burley. Another debate featuring five opposition leaders but not Cameron and Clegg will be broadcast on the BBC on 16th April.

The final deal comes after months of wrangling over the format and number of TV debates, with the broadcasters first threatening to “empty chair” the PM after he refused to agree to proposals.

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However, the broadcasters finally announced the single debate would go ahead with Cameron on 21st March.

Read the full interview with Julie Etchingham in the latest issue of Radio Times, in newsagents and on the Apple Newsstand from Tuesday 24th March.