BNP’s Nick Griffin proclaims: I am 'not a Nazi'; BBC ratings triple
- Branko Brkic
- 20 Mar 2018 (South Africa)
The British National Party under Nick Griffin has won two seats to the European parliament, engaged in stinging public criticism of British immigration policy, the place of people of South Asian, African and Caribbean ancestries in the UK’s population, and opposition to gay and lesbian rights. Just round things out, Griffin carries a history of strident Holocaust denial as well. Most recently, the BNP has been ordered by a British court to allow “non-aboriginal” British citizens to join the BNP. With all this as background, the BBC agreed to let British National Party head Nick Griffin explain himself and his party on its premier late evening public affairs program, Question Time.
As a result, Griffin finally had his chance to connect with a major UK TV audience via “Question Time.” Heretofore, Griffin was effectively locked out of British national television. Unlike its usual smaller, more niche audience, this time, given Griffin’s notoriety, eight million people tuned into the program. Media analysts say this is about the same number of viewers as World Cup games played by England’s soccer team -- and it was more than prime time hits like Strictly Come Dancing usually receive. Early opinion was Griffin lost heavily on points.
From the outset, in the chair, the normally avuncular David Dimbleby led the charge. Quoting from Griffin’s past remarks about the Holocaust, Islam, lesbians and gays, and restoring Britain to its “indigenous” white population, he demanded that Griffin say whether he stood by the remarks.
Griffin said he was “the most loathed man in Britain in the eyes of Britain’s Nazis,” and Dimbleby interrupted brusquely: “Do you deny the Holocaust?” Griffin said that he had shifted from his earlier position of denial after listening to World War II radio intercepts, but he could not elaborate because European laws made Holocaust denial a criminal offence.
Griffin’s public record includes a suggestion that gas chambers at Auschwitz-Birkenau were built after World War II for Jewish propaganda. While conceding, under questioning by a biographer, that Hitler may have made some mistakes. “Yes,” biographer, Dominic Carman quotes him as having said, “Adolf went a bit too far.”
Griffin is a Cambridge law graduate who is attempting to give a face wash to the BNP, a party that is the political successor to Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists. Since gaining control of his party, has tried to alter the party’s image, as a profile in Friday’s Daily Telegraph put it, “from skinheads in bomber jackets to ‘politically incorrect rebels.’ ”
During the broadcast, Griffin insisted he was “not a Nazi”, although the panellists on the program with him, audience members, and hundreds more gathered outside the BBC studios seem to have disagreed. A small group of the protesters actually managed to enter the BBC’s building, even though police set up a perimeter around the building.
Through institutionally gritted teeth, the BBC is defending Griffin’s appearance. Mark Thompson, BBC director general said, “If there is a case for censorship, it should be debated and decided in Parliament. Political censorship cannot be outsourced to the BBC or anyone else.”
Griffin clearly had no champions on the show. Justice Secretary Jack Straw said Griffin’s party, the BNP, lacked a “moral compass” and Tory Baroness Warsi said Griffin was “a thoroughly deceptive man”.
Was discontent over immigration a contribution to the rise of the BNP? Straw said no. Rather, it came from issues like the home expenses scandal now rocking all major parties. But the Conservative’s Warsi disagreed, saying: "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."
After the show, Griffin said both the panel and audience had unfairly treated him and that the show was broadcast from a city that had changed beyond all recognition because of what he termed uncontrolled immigration. “People wanted to see me and hear me talking about things such as the postal strike. One or two questions about what a wicked man I am, fair enough, but the whole programme – it was absurd. Let's do it again but do it properly this time.”
While Griffin clearly received rough treatment during the program, others, such as the group, People Against Fascism, criticised the BBC for “rolling out the red carpet” to Griffin and said his appearance “will lead to the growth of a fascist party" and promote violence against ethnic minorities.” And Welsh secretary Peter Hain, (yup, same guy) said: “The BBC should be ashamed of single-handedly doing a racist, fascist party the biggest favour in its grubby history.”
Meanwhile, a fellow rightist, France’s Jean-Marie Le Pen, predicted the BBC's decision to invite Griffin would lead to a rise in support for the BNP. Le Pen described his own appearance on a similar programme in France in 1984 as “the hour that changed everything.” He said: “Small fish become big so long as God gives them life. All political groups have started as marginal before becoming important.” Voting intentions for the Front National (Le Pen’s party) in the European elections in June that year subsequently doubled, from 3.5% to 7%, and in the actual election the FN scored 11% (2.2m votes).
Griffin’s appearance and Le Pen’s comments highlight the difficulties for broadcasters and other mainstream news media – should they give minimal coverage to marginal parties like the BNP or should they risk giving them oxygen through what is effectively free advertising and the possibilities of giving them a chance to trawl for the sympathy vote.
British Labour MP Diane Abbott comments, “It's all very well in the morning to say, 'Oh well, he got smashed,' but in the long run people who are attracted to the BNP will come away saying he was a victim. When you put the BNP into the mainstream like that they drag people on to their agenda. Everyone is talking about Nick Griffin. The programme has given him unnecessary exposure.”
The BBC said that average viewing figures for the programme were around 8 million – meaning around three times more viewers tuned in than usual. And in the first 24 hours, it had received more than 350 complaints about the broadcast. More than 240 people said the show was biased against the BNP, and about a 100 complained that Griffin was on Question Time in the first place.
By Brooks Spector
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