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The leading BBC political talk show Question Time has faced heavy criticism, since inviting the leader of the far-right British National Party (BNP) Nick Griffin on to the show on the 22nd October.
There were protests from anti- fascist campaign groups and members of the public outside BBC Television centre in Shepard’s Bush, angry with the BBC for inviting the leader of the far right group onto the panel. Many protesters felt that the BNP’s political agenda has no place in mainstream politics.
At just before 5pm the civilised protest turned in to mayhem, as around 30 members of the protesters tried and succeeded in getting through the gates and storming the entrance to show their disapproval.
While all this was happening at the front of television centre, Nick Griffin had been ushered in through a side entrance at 5.10pm leaving the protestors angry at not being able to stop the recording of the show.
Sophie Ghaziri a former student of University College Falmouth (UCF) and on placement at the BBC on was trying to leave television centre at the time told the studentguardian: “It was mayhem, I was not expecting this much furore, overall though I would say the protesters were peaceful, but overwhelmingly passionate.”
A small number of arrests were made during the protests which lasted until the filming of the programme came to an end at around 8pm, many hastily leaving to see the recording of the show which aired at 10.35pm that evening.
There was also considerable disparity between social commentators and politicians before the programme commenced. Welsh secretary Peter Hain raised the issue to the BBC Trust that they should be blocked from appearing on the show - because they are not a ‘lawfully constituted party.’
The BBC impartial stance means that it has, and always will, give airtime to all political parties giving the public a chance to hear the full range of political perspectives.
Mark Byford Deputy Director General of the BBC, in reply to criticism levied at the BBC, said: “What was important for the BBC was to fulfil its charter obligations of dual impartiality, once they (BNP) had won those two seats (at the European election) they passed the threshold with their six per cent share of the vote, for us to invite them on to Question Time.”
So, was it right that the BBC allowed Griffin to appear on Question Time? Question Time always have members of the three main political parties sitting on the panel, and also from time-to-time invites fringe party’s such as the UK Independence Party (UKIP) the Green Party and George Galloway’s Respect Party (who himself always inspires a mix of emotions) onto the panel.
As a political party the BNP, that won two seats in the European Parliament, equalling the Green Party, and receiving nearly a million votes at the last European elections, has evidently earned the right for an invitation on to the show?
But can the BNP be seen as a ‘normal political party’ when most of the issues that they raise have to do with immigration and indigenous Briton’s.
Jack Straw mentioned right at the very start of the show how no other party in their mandate has to say they are not a racist or fascist party, alluding to some of the BNP’s more extremist views on the Islamic faith.
While critics of the BNP’s believe that their campaigns are ill judged and do nothing but spout lies and play on the feelings of disenchanted voters surrounding issues such as immigration, and issue that the main political parties are shying away from. Immigration is likely to be a hot topic at the next general election and there is an overwhelming feeling of the need for an open debate on the subject.
The need to find new ways of communication between the electorate and voters was a striking symbol of this programme. With the exception of the debate from Grimsby, when Labour MP Margaret Beckett was booed by a Question Time audience angered by the expenses scandal revealed by the Daily Telegraph, it is hard to recall a previous Question Time’s when the main topical issue of the week (the two day postal strike) was not even mentioned. The result was, with every question focused on BNP policy Nick Griffin was given the chance to accuse the BBC of changing the format to direct all questions at him, which is undoubtedly what happened that evening.
It is very rare for Question Time to be dominated by one subject and the need to find new ways of communication between the electorate and voters was apparent and a striking symbol of this programme. Undoubtedly, Nick Griffin expected “a fair old political rough and tumble” throwing around such accusations beforehand lambasting the Labour Party and accusing them of “paying for the demonstrators to turn up and protest.” In times of voter apathy, however, some people really feel that a vote for the BNP would spark a real debate on immigration in the House of Commons.
Overall his mannerisms in front of the camera were that of man who knew he was in for some scathing criticism from audience members and his view on the gay community kissing in public, as “creepy” did nothing to change his public image.
However, in the end this was nothing but a win win situation for the BNP and Nick Griffin. The publicity surrounding this event before and after has propelled their party onto the front pages of all the national papers and it was the biggest talking point on the social networking site Twitter on the day of the show.
With stories now emerging on the BBC website this week, suggesting they could be invited back on an annual basis, with the likelihood also that the BNP will be able to have a party political broadcast screened on the BBC in the run up to the next general election will spark further emotions.
The genie has well and truly been released from the bottle and there is no putting it back, the BNP if voting patterns continue will play a small but significant part in British politics in the years to come, this will not be the last time they debate political issues at the top table in the future.
Read more on Question Time and watch the Video
BBC's Andrew Marr Interviews Nick Griffin Leader of the BNP