Angry Scenes Face Griffin at BBC

BBC News, October 22, 2009

BNP leader Nick Griffin has insisted he is “not a Nazi” during his first appearance on the BBC’s Question Time.

The political discussion programme was recorded as anti-fascist campaigners protested outside Television Centre.

Mr Griffin was booed at the start of the recording and accused of having “poison politics” as he was attacked by fellow panellists and the audience.

He said he had been “demonised” and repeatedly denied saying things which have been attributed to him.

The BBC has defended the invitation to the leader of the anti-immigration party to appear on the programme, saying it had a duty to be impartial.

During the show the panel covered topics including whether it was fair for the BNP to use images of Winston Churchill in their campaigns and whether immigration policy had fuelled the BNP’s popularity.

‘Demonised’

Justice Secretary Jack Straw said what distinguished the BNP from other parties was that other parties “have a moral compass”, adding: “Nazism didn’t and neither I’m afraid does the BNP.”

Mr Griffin, who said his father had been in the RAF during World War II, said he had been “relentlessly attacked and demonised. . . . I am not a Nazi and never have been”.

Mr Griffin repeatedly denied he had said many of the things he had been quoted as saying including a quote attributed to him in the Mail on Sunday that Adolf Hitler went “a bit too far”.

He claimed his efforts to change the BNP meant he was unpopular with the far right. “There are Nazis in Britain and they loathe me,” he said.

He admitted sharing a platform with former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke–but claimed he had been trying to win over “youngsters” Duke was trying to “lead astray”.

But Mr Straw said when anybody put a specific quotation to Mr Griffin he tried to “wriggle out of it”.

‘Not racist’

Conservative frontbencher Baroness Warsi said Mr Griffin was “a thoroughly deceptive man”.

Asked whether a misguided immigration policy had fuelled the BNP’s popularity Mr Straw said he did not think it had and said he thought the BNP had been boosted by discontent with the main parties over issues like expenses.

But Baroness Warsi said politicians had a responsibility to take on the BNP on the issue of immigration: “Many people who vote for the BNP are not racist and therefore what we have to do is go out and say to these people as mainstream political parties we are prepared to listen.”

Mr Grffin blamed the “political elite” for imposing “an enormous multicultural experiment on the British people”.

But his references to Britain’s “indigenous people” prompted other members of the panel to challenge him to say he meant white people.

Mr Griffin said the colour was “irrelevant” and said Mr Straw would not dare go to New Zealand and tell a Maori he was not “indigenous”. “We are the aborigines here,” he claimed.

But he was accused of making up facts. He was also challenged by several black and Asian members of the audience.

‘Red carpet’

One man asked Mr Griffin: “Where do you want me to go? I love this country, I’m part of this country.”

While the programme, which is being broadcast at 2235 BST, was being recorded the anti-BNP protest continued, with the whole west London BBC building “locked down” for more than an hour and the road outside closed.

The Metropolitan Police say six protesters were arrested and three police officers injured in the protests.

Mr Griffin accused the protesters of “attacking the rights of millions of people to listen to what I’ve got to say and listen to me being called to account by other politicians”.

But Weyman Bennett from Unite Against Fascism accused the BBC of “rolling out the red carpet” to Mr Griffin and said his appearance on the flagship discussion programme “will lead to the growth of a fascist party” and promote violence against ethnic minorities.

The crowd gathered at the main gates of TV centre in west London from mid afternoon. At about 1630 BST security guards opened a gate to let a car into the front car park about 25 people rushed forward and jumped over the barriers, one of which broke, and ran towards the building.

There were also protests outside BBC buildings in Bristol, Liverpool, Nottingham, Glasgow and Belfast.

Earlier on Thursday BBC director general Mark Thompson said it was up to the government to ban the BNP from the airwaves if it felt Mr Griffin should not be allowed to take part in Question Time.

Some high profile Labour politicians–including cabinet ministers Peter Hain and Alan Johnson–have said they opposed the BBC decision to allow the anti-immigrant party a place on Question Time.

But Prime Minister Gordon Brown said it was a matter for the corporation and he did not want to interfere with it, while Culture Secretary Ben Bradshaw said that most of the cabinet did not share Mr Hain’s view.

BBC Deputy Director General Mark Byford had earlier defended the BBC’s decision to invite Mr Griffin, whose party gained its first Euro MPs this year, on to the flagship political programme.

He said: “They should have the right to be heard, be challenged, and for the public who take part in Question Time and the viewers to make up their own minds about the views of the BNP. It’s not for the BBC to censor and say they can’t be on.”

[Editor’s Note: The original BBC News story includes video extracts of Nick Griffin’s appearance and video of the protesters storming into the BBC Televivision Centre here.]


Anti-fascist protesters broke into the BBC’s west London headquarters on Thursday ahead of a white-supremacist party leader’s appearance on a leading political debate show.

Hundreds of protesters gathered outside the BBC Television Center in an increasingly rowdy rally against British National Party chief Nick Griffin, who is due to appear on the broadcaster’s “Question Time” program. At one point about 25 people breached a police cordon and ran into the center’s lobby.

BBC footage showed some being pulled across the floor by their arms and legs by security.

The BBC said later that Griffin had managed to make it into the building, where he is scheduled to be a panelist on “Question Time”–a first for the far-right party.

Many politicians have condemned the invitation to Griffin, but the BBC says that as a publicly funded broadcaster it must cover all political parties that have a national presence. Justice Secretary Jack Straw, a senior member of the governing Labour Party Cabinet, is due to appear alongside Griffin.

The whites-only BNP opposes immigration and claims to fight for “indigenous” Britons. Griffin has a conviction for racial hatred and has denied the Holocaust in the past.

The party has tried to shed its thuggish image and enter the political mainstream. Earlier this year it won two European Union parliament seats, gaining 6 percent of British votes in European polls. It has no seats in the British Parliament.

The invitation to appear in front of several million TV viewers has divided Britain, but delighted the BNP, which is counting down the seconds until the broadcast on its Web site.

It has sparked a debate between free-speech advocates and those who say giving Griffin a platform lends legitimacy to unacceptable views and could provoke racist violence.

Several dozen demonstrators handed leaflets to staff outside BBC Television Center Thursday. Campaigners said they expected hundreds more to show up later when the show was being recorded.

Griffin said he expected a hostile reception, but had a right to be heard, and insisted his views had been misrepresented.

“If these people would only let us say what we want to say and then argue with what we’ve actually got to say instead of creating monsters and then being wound up about the monsters, everyone would get on far better,” Griffin said.

The head of the Muslim Council of Britain, Muhammad Abdul Bari, said “allowing the BNP to air its toxic views will increase Islamophobia and give the BNP aura of respectability needed to spread their message of hate.”

Prime Minister Gordon Brown said Griffin’s appearance would expose the party’s “racist and bigoted” views.

The BBC is wary of government interference in its political coverage. In the 1980s, the Conservative government banned radio and TV appearances by members of the IRA-linked Sinn Fein party. The broadcaster hired actors to read their words instead.

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