“Shame. On. You. BBC!”
“Nazi. Scum! Off. Our. Streets!”
Facing a wall of policemen, anti-fascists and anti-racists screamed at the top of their lungs.
The outrage over the decision to invite the racist British National Party (BNP) leader Nick Griffin onto a respected show like ‘Question Time’ had reached the BBC’s doorstep in Wood Lane, London. Inside, Griffin shared a panel for the first time with members of mainstream parties taking questions from a studio audience. He was hounded but never cornered. Although that doesn’t really matter because a man with views as odious as his should never have been on Question Time (QT) in the first place. The BBC was wrong to invite him.
A quick glance at some of the BNP’s claims to fame quickly reveals its racist agenda. It was only a few weeks ago that the party was forced by the court to change its constitution which earlier allowed only white people to become members. Griffin himself was convicted in 1998 for inciting racial hatred. His anti-Semitic past goes back a long way since he is understood to have read Mein Kampf at 13 and later said it had “some really useful ideas.”
Where this starts to become quite sinister is that he has been trying to give the BNP a veneer of respectability by talking about his extremist agenda in code or when it suits him, not at all. He has said, “This is a life-and-death struggle for white survival, not a fancy-dress party. Less banner waving and more guile wouldn’t go amiss.”
A more undeserving candidate for Question Time’s panel is hard to find.
The BBC was wrong for one principal reason. The format of Question Time legitimizes Nick Griffin. Having worked in television I know that the only way to get close to nailing down a double-speaking politician is to interview him or her individually and at length. Sort of like Karan Thapar’s demolition of Arjun Singh or Katie Couric’s demolition of Sarah Palin. However, with four other panelists, a moderator and an audience pulling the “discussion” this way and that, Griffin wriggled out just fine and for a while even managed to turn the tables on his fellow panelists who yammered on about failed immigration policies.
By placing him on a panel, he received the status of an “equal” or worse, won sympathy, going by the complaints the BBC received about unfair treatment towards Griffin. As if on cue, Griffin has complained that he was confronted by a “lynch mob” in London (where QT was shot) which according to him is “no longer a British city.”
After angry demands that the invitation to Griffin be withdrawn, the BBC dug in further saying censorship was the job of the government and not the BBC. I agree. And in fact, its not censorship that I want but a display of better editorial judgment. The BNP should not be removed from the airwaves. When their party wins an election or incites violence or does anything “newsworthy” then they must be covered. Nick Griffin must be interviewed, but just not on shows like Question Time that throw a cloak of respectability around the BNP.
The chief counter-argument in this debate is that not inviting Griffin violates his freedom of speech. But this is a slightly uni-dimensional way of looking at it because this line of reasoning ignores the fact that words can be used as codes - understood by the right audience, while staying within the law or simply as lies that suppress a darker agenda.
Griffin has said as much while sharing a platform with a former leader of the Ku Klux Klan, whom he ridiculously called “non-violent.” Standing before a crowd of white nationalists, Griffin told them it was all about using “saleable words” such as “democracy”, “freedom” and “identity”. “Nobody can criticize them. Nobody can come at you and attack you for those ideas. Perhaps one day, by being rather more subtle, we’ve got ourselves in a position where we control the British broadcasting media, then perhaps one day the British people might change their mind and say yes, every last one must go (non-white immigrants).”
Words can be sweet and sinister. Such tactics allow the BNP to become more and more acceptable, while completely deflecting attention away from its real thuggish agenda. It is exactly that kind of creeping extremism that any society needs to guard against.
This brings me back to my argument. If we have genuinely committed to the dustbin of history the notions of racial purity and white supremacy, what we need today is not censorship but a much more rigorous cross-examination of the return of such destructive politics The BBC, which otherwise does this so well and which has truly earned the trust of its audiences, I regret to say, betrayed them this time.
This piece was published in The Indian Express on 30th October 2009.