David Dimbleby and Julie Etchingham could be replaced by newspaper journalists in election debates

The Guardian’s Jonathan Freedland and the Daily Telegraph’s Emma Barnett have been lined up to chair a digital debate as YouTube calls David Cameron's bluff

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David Dimbleby and Julie Etchingham will be replaced by two newspaper journalists as the nation’s chief political inquisitors, if David Cameron agrees to a YouTube election debate.

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Jonathan Freedland, executive editor of the Guardian, and Emma Barnett, women’s editor of the Daily Telegraph, have been lined up as the hosts of the proposed five-way digital contest, RadioTimes.com can reveal.

David Cameron has refused to take part in any of the three April election debates proposed by the major broadcasters, saying that he did not want the contests to fall so close to the General Election, on 7th May. David Dimbleby is ready to host the BBC’s seven-way debate should it go ahead, with Julie Etchingham in the chair for ITV’s contest.

But YouTube has teamed up with the two broadsheet newspapers to offer an alternative debate, on either 26th or 27th March, which would meet the Prime Minister’s criteria for an earlier date.

The contest, which would be produced by Question Time maker Mentorn, would feature the heads of the three major parties, plus Nigel Farage and Natalie Bennett, the leader of the Greens.

In a letter to the party leaders, sent this morning, the digital debate consortium writes: “We note that the prime minister has said he is willing to take part in a debate in the week beginning 23rd March and that the leader of the opposition is prepared to debate ‘any time, any place, anywhere’”.

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The YouTube debate would not be time limited, but would feature ten questions to the party leaders. It would be made freely available for the other broadcasters to carry, and both Sky News and the BBC News Channel would be expected to show the contest.