The BBC’s Question Time programme and Nick Griffin, leader of the right-wing British Nationalist Party, share a hugely insignificant event
Question Time is a venerable BBC chat show. This week it became the centre of a political story through its decision to invite Nick Griffin, leader of the right-wing British Nationalist Party to take part.
The programme format is to have a group of B-celebrities discuss current affairs under the avuncular chairmanship of David Dimbleby and interaction with an audience which is groomed to produce questions, pass comment, and generally exercise the appropriate amount of righteous indignation. The show normally escapes publicity. Views tend to be less than insightful, although the principle of balance and the presence of rather old-fashioned personalities on the panel can provide lively expression of opposing views. Sometimes there are flashes of genuine debate.
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 trying to “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.
Early reactions to the show were captured by The Times
The corporation was delighted with the outcome, claiming that it justified the decision to include Mr Griffin. Mark Byford, the deputy director-general, said: “Members of the audience asked the kind of tough questions that mark Question Time out as the premier television programme where the public put the panellists on the spot.”
Comments on internet forums from television viewers accused the BBC of getting it wrong by allowing everyone to gang up on Mr Griffin and make him look like a victim.
It Doesn’t Matter
Call me one of those internet forum commentators. I was struck by several aspects of the programme. It seemed over-staged. The panellists took turns in conveying their revulsion for Mr Griffin and his political party, while stoutly justifying the rationale for sharing a public platform with him. The chairman encouraged the ‘ganging up’ process by taking part in it.
The audience were also pretty-well rehearsed. The hostility was of that of appropriate licence granted to licence holders. Not too subservient, emotional from time to time, but nothing too aggressive.
The media discussion after the show explored the rather anxious question posed at the end of the programme by the BBC. Is this an early Christmas present for the BNP?
Griffin’s fumbling performance might be replayed to some effect in the run-up to the next election. That was pretty much the BBC’s line. Here’s my alternative view: This is a 24-hour story, unlikely to have much longer-term impact. Question Time and Nick Griffin have done no more than share an Andy Warhol Moment.
… But what if Griffin had been more persuasive? I would like to think that the outcome would even then have been minimal.