Griffin struggles to defend views in BBC debate
By Jim Pickard and Tim Bradshaw in London
The Financial Times
Published: October 22 2009 18:40
Last updated: October 22 2009 22:47
Hundreds of anti-fascist protesters demonstrated outside the BBCs London centre on Thursday night as Nick Griffin, leader of the British National party appeared on Question Time.
Mr Griffin came under sustained attack from fellow panellists, including Jack Straw, justice secretary, and the studio audience, as he struggled to defend his controversial views.
The BBC had been widely criticised for letting a leader of the whites-only party appear on the programme for the first time.
Mr Griffin, who was forced to enter the building through a rear entrance, accused the protesters of attacking the rights of millions of people to listen to what Ive got to say.
The BNP leader went on to label homosexuals really creepy and said Islam was not compatible with UK society.
He admitted he had shared a platform with the Ku Klux Klan but claimed this was only to win people over to his more moderate position.
In often heated exchanges with other panellists, Mr Griffin was criticised by Mr Straw, who said what distinguished the BNP from other parties was that they had a moral compass.
EUROPEAN MEDIA TREATMENT OF FAR-RIGHT
Balancing free speech and censorship is a thorny issue in Europe, where fascism and communism are still a living memory, write Chris Bryant in Berlin, Scheherazade Daneshkhu in Paris and Thomas Escritt in Budapest.
Strict German laws forbid the broadcast of statements that incite violence or hatred or deny the Holocaust. Consequently, German journalists would think twice before offering an extremist politician a microphone or platform.
Although the far-right National Democratic party is represented in two state parliaments, it has no presence at a federal level, giving German media an excuse not to deal with its leaders, although the press does not skirt the issue and reports critically on rightwing parties.
The French government can ban organisations involved in inciting racial discrimination, hatred or violence. Contesting crimes against humanity, particularly the Holocaust, is also an offence.
Nevertheless, British commentators point to Jean-Marie Le Pens 1984 appearance on the French political show LHeure de Vrit, which preceded a rise in popularity for his far-right National Front. Mr Le Pen later described that appearance as the hour that changed everything.
Nazism didnt and neither Im afraid does the BNP, Mr Straw added.
But Mr Griffin, who has a conviction for inciting racial violence, claimed he was loathed by Nazis for his attempts to modernise the BNP.
He added: I am not a Nazi, and never have been. He said he had been relentlessly attacked and demonised in the run-up to the programme.
The panel debated issues including the Muslim faith, whether the BNP had hijacked Winston Churchill and the governments immigration policy.
Mr Straw described Mr Griffin as the Dr Strangelove of British politics, saying that no other party would need to issue a pamphlet telling its members they were not racists.
One member of the audience accused the BNP leader of being disgusting and poisoning politics.
Mr Griffin claimed he had been misportrayed because of outrageous lies in the media but refused to explain which accusations had been untrue.
After the show, the BNP leader said: I can see that millions of people who dont usually watch Question Time will remember what Ive said and think thats how they feel and Im perfectly happy with that.
Earlier some 30 protesters broke through police lines to enter the grounds of the building but were later ejected. There were six arrests.
Media agencies said that Question Time could receive almost double its normal audience figure of about 2.8m viewers.
EDITORS CHOICE :
BBC deluged by complaints over BNP chief – Oct-23
Editorial: Pried-out prejudice – Oct-23
Gabbling Griffin in the BBC bear pit – Oct-23
Outside Edge: We will fight them in the speeches – Oct-23
Gideon Rachman blog: the row about Nick Griffin – Oct-23
Masks, mothers and trade unionists greet Griffin – Oct-22