A controversial appearance by Nick Griffin, chairman of the far right British National Party (BNP), on BBC's weekly "Question Time" debate show led to anti-facist demonstrations outside the station's London headquarters.
AFP - The BBC was under fire Friday for handing the far-right a "golden opportunity" after the British National Party's leader appeared on a top panel show attacking Islam and defending the Ku Klux Klan.
Nick Griffin was repeatedly heckled by audience members calling him a "disgrace" and a "liar" as he appeared on "Question Time", which went out in primetime on the flagship BBC1 channel Thursday night.
Earlier, around 500 protesters held angry demonstrations against Griffin's appearance outside BBC Television Centre in London, where the show was being filmed.
Around 30 of them broke in to the building and there were six arrests, while three police officers were injured.
During the hour-long show, Griffin claimed Britain's World War Two prime minister Winston Churchill would have been a BNP member had he been alive today and described homosexuality as "creepy".
Asked if he had ever denied the Holocaust, he said simply: "I do not have a conviction for Holocaust denial", before declining to explain why he had denied the Holocaust, saying this was forbidden under European law.
When Britain's Justice Secretary Jack Straw, a fellow panellist on the show, told Griffin he would ensure he was not prosecuted if he answered, he still declined to elaborate.
Griffin was also jeered by audience members when he said that the Ku Klux Klan was "almost totally non-violent" and that Islam advocated the killing of Jews and the stoning of women who had been raped.
The BNP wants to stop immigration and currently has a whites-only membership policy, although that is set to change after a recent court battle.
Griffin's appearance on the show, a first for the BNP, has drawn massive interest in Britain amid concern over the rise of the far-right.
He was invited on after he and a colleague were elected to the European Parliament in June, with the party taking nearly a million votes.
The story was on the front cover of most newspapers Friday, while Internet microblogging service Twitter was drawing about 20 tweets per second on it as the show was screened Thursday night.
Despite a largely though not entirely hostile reception for Griffin from audience members, the BBC still faced sharp criticism Friday for inviting him on the the show.
The Guardian newspaper said in its editorial it was "questionable television".
"The hope remains, it is true, that the more the public sees of his party, the uglier they will judge it to be," it said.
"Even so, he was last night handed a golden opportunity to persuade them otherwise, a chance he should never have had."
The Daily Mirror called it a "propaganda coup for right-wing fanatics".
Others were less flattering. The Independent's front page headline was: "The BBC gave him the oxygen of publicity. He choked".
BNP spokesman John Walker admitted Griffin, who often looked nervous and had shaky hands during the show, did not put in the best performance but claimed its format had been changed to load it against him.
"Anyone who was opposed to the BNP would probably feel very smug and pleased with themselves this morning," he told BBC radio.
"But I don't think it makes much difference to the people in white working class areas that have been betrayed by the mainstream politicians.
"If anything, a lot of their concerns were confirmed last night about the mainstream."
The BBC has defended its decision to invite Griffin on the show, saying it was duty bound to be impartial. Cabinet minister Peter Hain, a veteran anti-apartheid campaigner, has accused it of legitimising "racist poison".
The programme typically attracts around three million viewers although viewing figures for Thursday's edition, not released yet, are expected to be much higher.
Date created : 2009-10-23