Last month James Macintyre, a former producer on Question Time, revealed in the New Statesman that the programme’s makers wanted Griffin on the panel two years ago, long before the BNP’s limited breakthrough in the summer. To its credit the BBC resisted at first the naïve showbiz instincts of some who run the independent production company that is responsible for Question Time. According to Macintyre the company, Mentorn, persisted for two years and finally got the go ahead from the BBC. This suggests that Mentorn wanted what Peter Hain calls a “beanfest” for reasons well removed from the BBC’s charter obligations.
Excerpt from Macintyre’s piece-
Yet such was the controversy into which the BBC had plunged itself that the corporation’s bosses found themselves spinning lines on behalf of the BNP. After Hain wrote to the BBC’s director general, Mark Thompson, to point out that the BNP was an “unlawful” entity with a whites-only membership policy, Thompson seemed to leap to Griffin’s defence. Following legal advice sought by the BBC, he said, “the [BNP] is not prevented from continuing to operate on a day-to-day basis”. Ric Bailey, the BBC’s omnipresent chief political adviser, went further in claiming, without evidence, that the corporation could have been challenged in the courts had it not hosted Griffin on Question Time, since it had, in Thompson’s words, an “obligation to scrutinise and hold to account all elected representatives”. Bailey also resorted to the electoral argument: the BNP had to be represented on Question Time, he said, because it “won more than 6 per cent of the vote across Britain – approaching a million people”.
None of these positions bears scrutiny. First, as I revealed last month, Question Time wanted to host Griffin as early as 2007. At the time, I was working as a producer on the show, and this was long before the BNP’s electoral “breakthrough”. Much has been made of the BNP’s “million votes” in June’s European elections but, nationally, its vote share was a tiny 6.2 per cent – up 1.3 per cent on 2004. The BNP benefited from a collapse in the Labour vote. And, as Hain told me: “The BBC’s argument is threadbare. The logic of saying that a million votes gets you a place on Question Time is that if, say, [the Islamist cleric] Abu Hamza formed a party and attracted that support, he would go on.”
Second, there was never any “obligation”, legal or otherwise, to invite Griffin on to the BBC’s most popular current-affairs show, any more than there is an “obligation” for Griffin to appear on Ready Steady Cook. The BBC’s current-affairs output has to be impartial and balanced but, as I argued at internal meetings in 2007, the main problem is the format: it is difficult not to have a “good” Question Time. It was far better having the BNP on Newsnight and Radio 4’s Today programme. Labour’s Jon Cruddas, who confronts the BNP threat daily in his Dagenham constituency, has pointed out that the BBC could have given Griffin “45 minutes with John Humphrys or Andrew Neil”.
I think though Chicken Yoghurt makes an excellent point, please go and see it in full but basically all the things you can accuse the BNP of believing in Jack Straw puts into action. Yes it’s a retrograde step to have the BNP on but so is lying a country into war and torture and not holding the political class to account for 30 years of neoliberal attacks on British society that has created the opportunity for the BNP to rise. I think the protest outside the BBC is a stirring example of British people’s passion for an inclusive democracy.
However no platform was under threat once the bar to entry for media was lowered by the web, BNP idiots thrive on conspiracy theories and being barred from mainstream media feeds this. They should not be treated as any other party, a clever and considered lancing of the boil, a concerted exposure that would deflate the lies of the activists and the paranoid theories of supporters seems the least worst choice. But what chance of the corporate media doing this?
Question Time is not the best venue to expose Griffin’s fascism, they are not a political party like any other, they are a group that support right wing white male belligerent supremacy and will cheerfully lie to gain support from people who should -but apparently don’t- know better. I think the mainstream broadcasters should have taken the BNP to task, fact check them and expose the criminal activity and links to open Nazi groups worldwide, however corporate media rarely acts like that in respect of right wing parties. The BBC news on now has done some of this but it is not confronting Griffin with it. The Question Time format is too easy for Griffin to escape scrutiny, let Paxman or Humphrys do an in depth interview with a follow up fact check, because again the key aspect of fascists is they use ‘noble lies’ to further their objectives. I would also ask that white people particularly white men (as I am) think about their entitlement and how that makes Griffins loathsome but perhaps, to some, not as viscerally abhorrent as it does to people of colour. It is telling all the senior people who would have made this decision in the BBC & Mentorn (incidentally from my time pottering around the industry in the 90’s they had a terrible reputation for how they treated their employees & free lancers at that time) are white males, affluent ones at that. It’s possible Question Time will surprise us and Griffin will be exposed for the scumbag he is and his party for the racist fascist rump of losers that they are, history warns us that might not be the case and media analysis also suggests how such media institutionally fail to treat the right wing with due objectivity and scepticism.
Simply from my observation of the media today it is hard not to see an element of this entitled bias in action, endless -mostly- male white journalist and presenters applying their usual tools to the issue as if fascism was an ideology as legitimate as any other and repeatedly mentioning how ‘1 million’ people voted BNP in the Euro election. How is it that media that are happy to ignore the beliefs of millions more when they are environmental groups, anti war or anti corporate or anti neoliberalism are suddenly are falling over themselves to care about what 1 million hateful chumps want? A gender and racial bias that remains unchallenged at a personal and institutional level is to me rather obvious here, there is also a class bias, the BNP target deprived areas, they are a scourge among people the political establishment already ignores and despite what the media keeps repeating it is not the white working class it is the working class! The BNP can exploit divide and rule because the entire working and lower middle class of all races do not get representation in the one ideology politics of consensus happy clappy neoliberal corporatocracy land UK plc. What the BNP spread is violent, community destroying lies among people already under attack from the establishment. So again I see a certain elite group of people who are really not that affected by the BNP whatever may happen making the decisions (there seems to some foregrounding of black presenters by the beeb tonight but they are not the decision makers).
I think no platform was -sadly- going to fail, the technology, the needs of churnalistic corporate media was seeing to that, but the BBC has failed to approach the challenge suitably and that was probably the best prospect there was for a responsible approach among broadcasters (props to CH4 News, but what is their reach?). So, yes this could be a moment we will look back on as the Mainstreaming of Fascism.
To be honest at the best of times I can barely stand to watch Question Time so I don’t know if I can bring myself to watch it, I will try and if so will be also online here -open thread!- & on Twitter along with many others expressing our feelings.