by Ben Cohen
Peter Hain, the Welsh secretary, has condemned the BBC's handling of an interview with two "anonymous" BNP members, claiming it casts serious doubt over "the corporation's grip" on covering the far-right party.
The interview, broadcast on Radio 1's
Newsbeat programme, introduced the men as "two young guys who are
members of the BNP" but failed to tell listeners that they were
prominent party members and one was the BNP's publicity director. The
BBC now faces calls for an internal investigation after it received
more than 100 complaints.
While I obviously find the views of the BNP disgusting, I think they should be given air time just like anyone else, if only to expose how pathetic they are. However, the full names and positions of the members should have been disclosed on the program, and the BBC has failed to adequately explain why this did not happen. If members of a political party decide to take part in public debate, there is absolutely no reason why the public shouldn't know their names. The BBC has also been severely criticized for not seriously challenging the 'politicians' for their views, and have been accused of soft balling the pair (check out the transcript and audio here and decide for yourself).
In the BBC's defense, I do think that no matter how they handled it, there would have been an
outcry. Given the subject matter this is entirely understandable, but it is more important to hear all voices in political debate, no matter how offensive. I don't think that airing people's opinions necessarily gives them legitimacy, and the BBC obviously didn't do themselves any favors in this particular case. But generally speaking, they were right to interview them.
The BBC has a strong code of impartiality, and although one would have liked them to have come down harder on the two, they stuck to the script and allowed the interviewees to put forward their views. If people were looking for a bar room brawl style debate, unfortunately, they were watching the wrong channel.