The BNP, Free Speech, and BBC Question Time
A senior government member has struck out at the BBC’s Question Time for its invite to BNP leader Nick Griffin, who is currently due to appear on the 22nd October edition of the program. Peter Hain wants the BNP’s invitation rescinded because they aren’t a lawful organisation, due to a court ruling over their constitution.
To recap, the BBC announced shortly after the June European Parliament elections that they felt obliged to invite a representative of the British National Party to appear on the show because they were now an elected political party. In fairness, this is the same basis under which the Greens have appeared on the show. Argue that MEP count isn’t sufficient, and we loose one of the most left wing voices on the program, and one of the few chances the Greens have to really put their policies across.
But the announcement was met with the customary statements of dismay from a wide range of anti-racist and other political groups, concerned that hatred was being rubberstamped. To add to this, a court case was bought against the BNP for their rules on eligibility for membership; specifically that members must be "indigenous Caucasian". The court has found them in breach of the law over this detail, and the BNP have accepted they must make amends. However, constitutional changes take time, and that time hasn’t even begun, and won’t until a party meeting in November. Quite what will happen if the less-than-happy-fuhrer gets his way, I don’t know.
So now Peter Hain MP, who has a history of campaigning against racism and apartheid, has made a seriously media appearances to berate the decision to have Griffin on the show at this time. It does, one has to acknowledge, hold some water: the BBC said the BNP had to be invited (and note, it never said it wanted to) because it was legit, and now Hain is pointing out that the organisation is in breach of a court ruling. But it is only a temporary ruse at best to keep the party off the show.
The BBC, it should be noted, has completely different outcomes in mind. As a media organisation in need of more viewers for what can sometimes be seen as unexciting television (and probably has a higher age of screen visible participants than most shows apart from songs of praise). The fact Question Time is on a channel with supposedly public money is the only reason it can be challenged; for a private broadcaster, the frenetic excitement caused by the repercussions of such an event would be very quickly turned into profits, advertisers willing.
Either way, its not likely that the BBC will cancel the invitation, or do anything quite as rash as invite George Galloway to provide the opposition. I’m really not sure whether I think the BBC should have made such statements that they have eventually had to make a formal invite, but at this stage, I can’t see pulling the plug to be a very sensible move, as the BNP would then claim martyrdom. Its rather like the court case against Griffin where he might have gone to jail, but then that might have triggered such a response that actually, it was better to leave him walking freely than risk the BNP (and now EDL) bringing in the heavies.
I’m also not very clear why certain groups are calling on people not to watch the program when it gets aired. Do they think they can either significantly dent the number of viewings, given the likely rise, or gain anything from having the entire country barring their members know what was said, and thus be unable to defend themselves? I for one would quite like to book a room and a projector to show the debate live, with a planning meeting straight afterwards. It would seem the most positive thing to do at this stage.