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Nick Griffin on BBC Question Time

October 23, 2009

If you’ve searched on the internet and hoped for a breakdown of what happened during *that* BBC Question Time with Nick Griffin, you will almost certainly be disappointed. I didn’t watch it as it was broadcast. Instead, I caught up on what happened on Twitter, via some twitter pals and reading accounts provided by The Guardian, The Daily Mail and the BBC website.

A reminder of what felt like the TV event of recent weeks or months was flagged up at the end of a busy few days filming some BBC College of Journalism (CoJo’s launch reported here) events in the leafy setting of the BBC’s Broadcasting House in Cardiff. Attention had been duly focussed on making sure we got the best shots for a series of videos which will with any luck make it onto the College’s learning-rich website when it goes public. It had been a demanding few days. When we all said goodbye at the end of it, it did rather feel like we’d delivered even if there’s some post-production to go through yet.

Being out of London for that relatively extended period of time probably explained the shock we all experienced when we stopped dead in front of the plasma screen outside the studio. There streamed live on the BBC News channel were shots of Television Centre seemingly under siege by protesters registering their disgust at the appearance of BNP leader Nick Griffin on the BBC’s Question Time.

Not for the first time since signing that all important BBC contract, I left Cardiff’s Broadcasting House wondering whether the BBC was a hated institution. Was the BBC wrong for having Griffin on Question Time. Should they have refused him? Were they giving a voice to something fundamentally wrong? Had the BBC and all who worked for it and subscribed to it’s values, followed the wrong path? Was this another nail in the coffin? More importantly, in my pursuit of a dream job with a dream organisation, had I backed the wrong horse?

History will judge that fist full of questions. And, if it doesn’t, I’m not the person to provide an objective view on it. To do that I’d have to be working for someone entirely different, quite possibly in an entirely different field.

Instead, I took solace in the words of the taxi driver who submitted to my line of jovial questioning effortlessly executed during the short journey back to the miserable hotel I’ve been staying in these past few days.

“You’ll have missed Question Time tonight then?” I asked, knowing full well what the answer would be.

“Oh yes. But I’ve been following it all day.”

“What do you make of it all?” I asked, keen not to make things appear too obvious.

“I don’t agree. I don’t agree with him but we’re about free speech. I don’t like that. I don’t like him having that time. But he had his time. He was voted in. We’re about free speech. He was allowed his time. ”

“Do you think the BBC was right to have him on?”

(It was only a six or seven minute journey to the Copthorne Hotel. Time was of the essence.)

“Of course. I trust the BBC. I know what I hear from the BBC is the truth. And if they get it wrong they’ll tell me they’ve got it wrong. I appreciate that.”

What the taxi driver said isn’t important. (Technically speaking I should have provided you with an audio record of the conversation so this blog is fully backed up in terms of evidence. Sadly, the journey – including the 3 minutes spent at the cash machine getting the necessary £10 for the journey home – only amounted to 15 mintues and we spent 5 minutes of that talking about Radio 4.) What’s important to me is the sense of relief I felt when that one individual expressed appreciation of what the BBC does and the values it’s recently demonstrated.

I confessed my allegiance shortly before he pulled on the handbrake outside the front door of the hotel. “I wondered why you were asking,” he said handing me my change, “but don’t misunderstand me whatever you do lovely. I like the BBC. I trust the news I get from it. I don’t like Radio Football – there’s never any mention of the rugby scores from Wales on a Saturday evening and I can’t stand Strictly Come Dancing. But you lot who do the news. You lot get it right mostly. And when you don’t, you usually tell us you haven’t.”

Bless him.

  1. I have to agree with the well-spoken cab driver. The free speech is important – crucial in fact. One thing the protesters don’t understand is that free speech is more than giving anyone a platform and the right to exercise their opinions. It’s also an opportunity. It’s an opportunity for listeners and viewers to see what people are really about. In the case of the evasive, the extreme, the negative, the people who leverage current events for political capital and the out and out liars – it’s an opportunity for people to see them exposed, and in the case of BBC Question Time, exposed to scrutiny as well.

  2. If the cab driver picked you up from the BBC, I think he’ll have deduced that you work for the BBC 😉

  3. Actually – he picked me up from Mermaid Quay at 11pm 😉

  4. I have mixed feelings on this issue. There is no doubt the BBC was correct in allowing the BNP some airtime now the party has arrived electorally with UK members of the European Parliament. And I thought David Dimbleby handled the evening fantastically well, and Nick Griffin was clearly exposed for what he is. However, I fear the immediate result of his appearance on the programme will be a (hopefully short-term) boost for the BNP.

    The protesters played into this as well – again, they certainly did have the right to protest the BBC’s decision and perhaps a moral imperative too – but the net result gave the whole event and the BNP even more publicity.

    But we can’t continue to pretend these people don’t exist – they have achieved a million votes in a national election. They need to beaten by open debate.

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