Questioning the BNP
Padraig Reidy: The argument about whether the BNP should appear on Question Time is moot. The issue now is arguing with the BNP on Question Time.
28 Sep 09

Well, it’s happened. The BBC has announced that British National Party leader Nick Griffin MEP will appear on political discussion show Question Time on 22 October. Facing him (among others) will be Justice Secretary Jack Straw, a man believed by frequenters of far-right web forums to be a key part of the International Jewish Conspiracy.

I mention this partly because it will be interesting to see if Nick Griffin manages not to mention it when he faces Straw. Griffin, of course, is the author of the 1995 pamphlet Who Are The Mindbenders, which catalogues in some detail how Jewish (and in many cases “Jew-ish”) people control the media. While the BNP is now more noted for its anti-Muslim outpourings, it retains a root in classic far-right conspiracy theories on pernicious Judaism. Anti-fascist website Hope Not Hate just last week claimed to uncover an audio file of Griffin and party comrade Simon Darby alleging that “anti-Islamisation” group the English Defence League is in fact a “Zionist false flag operation”.

But does any of this count in the matter of whether the party should be represented on Question Time? Only in the sense that it would be nice if others on the panel mentioned it. Apart from that, one would have to say no.

I have argued previously that the right to free speech is not the same as the right to a platform: and I stand by this assertion. However, the BBC’s status as a publicly-funded, public service broadcaster complicates this point. The BBC is not in a position now to grant the BNP legitimacy in the political process: it is the people who voted for them who have done this. As long as we operate as a representative democracy, then voters must be represented in the public sphere, whether in the council chamber, parliament or on the state broadcaster.

And of course, the BNP has already been represented on the BBC many times. It is sufficiently “legitimate” already to be allowed party political broadcasts: Griffin has appeared on Newsnight, albeit on his own after others interviewees refused to speak with him, and BNP member Lee Barnes has appeared on BBC Radio 4 ethics programme the Moral Maze (alongside Index editor Jo Glanville).

The argument about whether the BNP should appear on Question Time, then, is moot. The issue now is arguing with the BNP on Question Time.

By Padraig Reidy

Padraig Reidy is the editor of Little Atoms and a columnist for Index on Censorship. He has also written for The Observer, The Guardian, and The Irish Times.