The BNP on the BBC

Last night the BBC hosted Question Time, the broadcaster’s flagship political debate program, with representatives from Great Britain’s largest political parties.

What drew headlines—and riot police and protesters to the BBC’s studios—was the inclusion, for the first time, of a representative of the vehemently anti-immigrant whites only British National Party.

The BBC’s general director, Mark Thompson, claimed that given the BNP’s success in recent European parliament elections, where they took two seats and over 6% of the vote, the network’s charter and tradition of impartiality mandated that the party gain more access to the network’s most popular programming than they’ve had in the past.

Before last night, the Labour party had taken a “no platform” approach, and refused to debate or appear alongside BNP politicians.

Together with the BBC’s shift, that makes two very different organizations rethinking how and whether or not to engage a noxious political organization that has begun to show greater political potency.

Last night almost every question focused on the BNP or Nick Griffin, the party leader on the panel. Griffin has since complained that this was a departure from the show’s usual format, where the guests are asked audience questions, selected by the moderator, about the news of the week. (And Griffin didn’t do much to hide his contempt for his host during the taping, calling the BBC “overall a thoroughly unpleasant ultra-leftist establishment.”)

The BBC is only offering a brief clip of the night for internet viewers abroad, but for now someone has uploaded the full show to YouTube. Interesting viewing.

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Clint Hendler is the managing editor of Mother Jones, and a former deputy editor of CJR.