Thursday, 22 October 2009

BNP at the BBC

And so, the BBC will tonight allow the British National Party that most coveted (for them) prize: a seat among the Question Time 'notables'. Not even a late plea to consider the legal implications of including a party with a still illegal constitution could make the BBC hierarchy change their minds. To revoke Griffin's invite, Director General Mark Thompson says, would be unacceptable "censorship". Only governments, he thinks, can make the decision on which organisations to ban. Yet, the same institution which refused to air a public DEC appeal for the broken children of Gaza has, unilaterally, decided to hand gifted publicity to a party intent on fostering hate, division and violence.

As with other liberal arguments, Thompson's and the BBC Trust's defence of this "editorial judgment" is unconvincing. As previously noted, the real issue here is not about the right to be heard, it's about the legal rights of citizens not to be subject to public speech which castigates and intimidates them.

Discrimination based on ethnic or religious identity is not just immoral, it's illegal. It's illegal in the workplace. It's also illegal to peddle racist speech in the high street - even if the BNP now do this surreptitiously. So, why should the same incitement to racist intolerance be allowed amplification on a BBC panel?

What's the difference, some might say in response, between Griffin appearing on QT and being interviewed on, say, Newsnight or Channel 4 News? In both cases, he's getting that much-valued exposure.

Firstly, it's not entirely obvious that news outlets do, in fact, require to give the BNP a platform for their views, even when reporting issues regarding the BNP.

But if there is a distinction, it lies in the kind of criteria used by QT and the BBC to defend the invite. They argue that it's in recognition of the BNP's electoral standing - namely, its two MEPs and a few local councillors. But this is still to accept that a party permitted to run for political office is doing so by using inflammatory language, namely illegal hate-speak, against 'non-indigenous' groupings. While a media interview, ideally conducted, should serve, in a critical, news-oriented context, to identify and expose perpetrators of hate-speak and war crimes alike - for example, Mark Regev, Tony Blair, John Bolton, to name but a few - this kind of appearance allows Griffin, as well as the aforementioned warmongers, a more formal and populist form of legitimacy. That's a kind of propaganda 'upgrade' well understood by all spinners of hate, violence and war.

Of course, beyond the core 'free-speech' argument, some rightly insist that Griffin is a mere amateur when compared to all the ministerial war villains who sit on soft QT chairs - including Peter Hain, who has tried to get the invite revoked. So, why target Griffin, in particular? It's a valid point, a measure of the political-normalising effect of QT and other safe BBC debate that the directors of vast, murderous war crimes in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere can be safely ensconced among Dimbleby's select while this storm rages around Griffin.

Yet, that still doesn't quite deal with the BNPs own promotions of localised hatred. Those involved, directly and indirectly, in high war crimes could, and should, still be subject to just indictment by an international court. But so should people like Griffin be continually targeted, through national courts, for incitement to hatred and violence.

Which returns us to the issue of the BNP's status as a party and whether a legal case exists for banning it as a purveyor of illegal hate-speech. I believe such a case does, indeed, exist. The real question is: where is the political and judicial willingness to effect it?

The impact of Griffin's appearance? It will disgust many. It will satisfy the 'let's have a debate' liberals - as if there really should be any 'debate' about the 'validity' of the BNP's poisonous claims and language. It will prompt more pious denunciations, from the media and politicians to those lofty warmongering generals who rank themselves morally above such 'common' racists.

But it will also make hate-speak just that little more respectable. It allows those who would normally be that bit reticent in coming out with their malignant prejudices against the foreign 'other' to do so with just that added degree of comfort, knowing that the man who articulates their own usually muffled views is now sitting in a smart suit on a selective BBC set.

The result, whatever the righteous rejections of Griffin from Straw et al, of this precedent-setting invite will be a nod to the tolerance of intolerance. Besides the potential for increased racist attacks, a lot more 'quietly intolerant' people will feel better for the appearance of a man intent on spreading hateful suspicion against all those 'non-indigenous' citizens. And the BBC will feel ennobled at having dispensed its 'impartial' duty.


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