The Guardian, the Telegraph and YouTube put forward plans for an online leaders’ debate as pressure grows on the Prime Minister.Elstree Film (& TV) Studios

With just weeks to go until parliament is dissolved and the general election campaign gets underway, the pressure on the Prime Minister to take part in the TV debates continues to grow.

David Cameron has stated that he will only take part in one televised debate, which would feature a total of seven party leaders. Labour leader Ed Miliband has accused the Prime Minister of “chickening” out of debating with him face-to-face.

A consortium of media groups have now put forward a proposal which looks to ‘accommodate’ Cameron on his wish to take part in a debate before the election campaign kicks-off. If agreed, it would take place in the week beginning 23 March and be available to all broadcasters who wanted to screen the debate.

The BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Sky News have said they stand by their plans for the three election debates which will take place in April. They would feature two seven-way debates, and then a head-to-head between Cameron and Miliband. The seven-way debate would feature the leaders from the Scottish Nationalist and Plaid Cymru.

The decision to include the nationalist parties has attracted criticism, especially from the Democratic Unionist Party in Northern Ireland who were not invited by the main broadcasters. They are said to be looking at what legal action to take if they continue to not be included. The online debates would not feature nationalist parties.

The broadcasters have threatened to “empty chair” the debates if David Cameron does not appear. This has left some wondering if this is possible due to the laws on impartiality and balance during an election campaign.

The first televised debate will be screened on ITV and is expected to feature David Cameron (Conservative), Ed Miliband (Labour),  Nick Clegg (Liberal Democrats), Nigel Farage (UKIP), Natalie Bennett (Green Party), Nicola Sturgeon (Scottish National Party) and Leanne Wood (Plaid Cymru). This would take place on Thursday 2 April.

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