THE BBC better get its act together when it brings Question Time to Glasgow this Thursday.

During the last edition of the political panel show the broadcaster allowed lies and disinformation to go out over the airwaves uncorrected, infecting public discourse.

An audience member told the panel that the Vote Leave campaign had broken electoral law, and said Dominic Cummings, the Prime Minister’s special adviser, had refused to come before parliament.

Presenter Fiona Bruce told the young woman: “I’m not entirely sure you’re right about that.” Bruce also appeared to confuse Vote Leave with the Leave.EU campaign.

The young woman defended her position, but was told by Bruce “no criminal charges were brought”.

The right-wing journalist Isabel Oakeshott, who was a panellist, then jumped in to say: “The vast majority of allegations about both Leave campaigns were found to be completely untrue. This was propaganda.”

The audience member was correct, however – Vote Leave broke the law. Yet, any viewer would have left the programme believing the opposite.

This is a critical failure by the BBC. The national broadcaster is meant to provide unbiased, accurate reporting. It did the opposite on Question Time.

This General Election is one that will be fought on lies, deceit and manipulation. That’s why facts, truth and trust are the most vital issues for the electorate.

Here’s a reminder of what the BBC should have told viewers. Vote Leave was fined £61,000 for breaking electoral law over spending limits. In March this year, it dropped its appeal against the fine. Vote Leave was fronted by Boris Johnson. Cummings was campaign director.

The Electoral Commission said: “Serious offences such as these undermine public confidence in our system and it is vital, therefore, that they are properly investigated and sanctioned.”

A day after Question Time aired, it emerged evidence relating to overspending, which could lead to criminal charges against Vote Leave, had been passed by police to the Crown Prosecution Service.

The House of Common’s Privileges Committee said Cummings had committed a contempt of Parliament by not appearing to give evidence when ordered as part of an inquiry into fake news.

The fact that Question Time acted as a distributor for lies on an issue which is right at the very heart of Brexit and the forthcoming General Election makes the broadcaster’s failings ever more egregious.

I don’t see bias at every turn with the BBC. I’ve mostly great respect for the broadcaster in terms of its journalism and also its cultural output. When I see it attacked by both right and left, Leave and Remain, unionists and Yes voters, I’m pretty confident it’s doing its job and holding all sides of the political spectrum to account. Demonstrations against the BBC and hate campaigns against reporters run contrary to every democratic bone in my body. I see them as the first steps on the path to authoritarianism and populism.

However, the BBC as a whole suffers from a fatal weakness: its automatic default position is to defend the status quo. When authority speaks, it accepts and parrots, it doesn’t question and interrogate. Radical voices are subjected to withering scrutiny, reactionary voices are treated with respect and dignity. This skews debate and immediately sets up imbalance.

We saw the same problem here in Scotland during the independence referendum. The knee-jerk position was to subject the Yes campaign to forensic investigation, while broadly accepting most of what the No campaign said on face value. Both sides should have been put under the same pressure.

There are also flaws built in to Question Time, which are now becoming damaging to democracy. The show isn’t about debate and getting to the facts, it’s TV clickbait. It’s about screaming matches and outrage. It’s a shock-jock show dressed up in the boring clothes of a politician.

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Here in Scotland, we’re used to the games Question Time plays. Eyebrows were raised when a former UKIP member called Billy Mitchell appeared on the show for the fourth time in Scotland. Mitchell claimed he was invited by the show’s producer.

The damage done to the BBC’s reputation by last week’s show was immediate and deep. Shahmir Sanni, the whistleblower who exposed Vote Leave spending, said: “Oh my f**king God. They’re not even trying to hide it anymore! This audience member recalls Vote Leave breaking electoral law and Fiona Bruce literally lies saying ‘they were cleared of those accusations’.”

We’ll be in serious trouble during this election if the BBC shatters trust in itself. The public needs the BBC more than ever as an arbiter of what’s true and what’s lies in this era of mass manipulation and propaganda.

Johnson’s government is currently sitting on a report into Russian interference in British democracy. Dominic Grieve, the former Tory attorney-general, has called for its publication before the election.

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The Labour Party has began to question Dominic Cummings' links to Russia. Emily Thornberry, shadow foreign secretary, wrote to the government asking about his connections to Russia and the level of security vetting to which he’s been subjected in Downing Street.

Amid all this, we’ve the truly grave threat Facebook poses to democracy. The social media giant will allow British politicians to run false ads on the site. To make the matter even more disgusting, the policy is being championed by Facebook executive Nick Clegg, the former LibDem deputy Prime Minister, who once spoke out about “the colossal scale of the lies spread by the Leave campaign”.

Johnson and his new Tory radicals are also shameless in their deceit. Outgoing European Commission President, Jean-Claude Junker, said yesterday of the EU referendum: “So many lies were told, including by current prime minister, Boris Johnson, that there needed to be a voice to counter them.”

Chief among the voices countering lies should be the BBC. It shouldn’t be amplifying falsehoods. Perhaps, one starting solution would be to change the format of Question Time by adding in a fact-checker service. While the panel debate, a team of journalists could sit behind them double-checking if what they are saying is true. If they lie, fact-checkers should interrupt the show and tell viewers the truth. That would be a real service to democracy, and to the public, when we need it most.

Neil Mackay is Scotland’s Columnist of the Year