UK's BBC defends having right-wing BNP on program
By Keith Weir, Reuters
October 23, 2009, 9:38 am TWN
LONDON -- The BBC defended its decision to allow the leader of the right-wing British National Party (BNP) to appear on a flagship current affairs programme on Thursday, despite criticism from anti-racism groups and politicians.
Anti-racism groups were planning protests against the invitation to BNP leader Nick Griffin at the BBC's headquarters in west London throughout the day and two senior government ministers have also criticised the appearance.
Mark Thompson, director-general of the publicly funded BBC, said the invitation to appear on the Question Time show was based on the level of support the BNP gained in the European and local elections.
He said it was up to parliament and the government to bar or censor political parties. The BNP, which calls for a halt to immigration, voluntary repatriation of immigrants and Britain's withdrawal from the European Union, won two seats in the European Parliament in elections in June.
It has no seats in the national parliament but will field hundreds of candidates in a general election due by next June. The mainstream parties fear it could siphon off voters angered by deep recession and a scandal over lawmakers' expenses.
Thompson drew parallels with the 1980s when Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's government barred Sinn Fein, political ally of Irish Republican Army guerrillas, from the airwaves.
"Though we argued against it, the BBC abided by the Northern Ireland broadcasting ban in the 1980s, and, if the BNP were proscribed, the BBC would abide by that decision too, and the BNP would not appear on Question Time," Thompson wrote in an article in the Guardian newspaper. "If there is a case for censorship, it should be debated and decided in parliament. Political censorship cannot be outsourced to the BBC or anyone else," he added.
BNP leader Griffin will answer audience questions in a panel with Justice Secretary Jack Straw, Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Chris Huhne, Conservative community cohesion spokeswoman Sayeeda Warsi and US writer Bonnie Greer.
Former military leaders took aim at the BNP this week, accusing it and other right-wing groups of hijacking Britain's history for their own "dubious ends".
Griffin, who is an MEP, said the party would keep using military imagery and likened the generals to Nazi war criminals.