The British National Party will be granted up to one appearance on Question Time each year if it maintains its current level of public support, the Director-General of the BBC said today.
Giving evidence to the House of Lords communications committee, Mark Thompson was asked about the controversial appearance of Nick Griffin, the BNP leader, on last week’s instalment of the BBC’s flagship political panel programme.
Mr Thompson said that the party’s showing in the European elections earlier this year, when it gained two MEPs, meant that the BBC had no choice but to include it in some editions of Question Time. He said: “The underlying support for the BNP is 2 to 3 per cent. In the European elections they got 6 per cent. This isn’t an absolute, precise science. I think you’re talking about a party, if it continued to get that level of support, [getting] no more than one [appearance] a year and perhaps less.”
Mr Thompson admitted that it was the BBC that approached the BNP to appear, rather than vice-versa, adding that the corporation had been considering the move for “months and years”. He said that it was his decision, as editor-in-chief of the corporation, to extend an invitation to Mr Griffin, and that as Parliament had not banned the party it was not appropriate for him to deny it access.
Under a barrage of questions from Lord Fowler, the chairman of the committee, Mr Thompson said that the BNP was also likely to appear on other political programmes such as Radio 4’s Any Questions.
“He could appear on any of the programmes that deal with UK politics,” he said.
The Director-General said that he could not give a view on whether the show had been a success, as he may have to adjudicate on complaints made by the public, which he said numbered in the low hundreds.
The BBC secured record ratings for Mr Griffin’s appearance on Question Time. More than 8 million people tuned in to watch him receive a mauling from his fellow panellists and the studio audience at Television Centre in West London. That figure was the highest in the 30-year history of the programme — which normally attracts 2 to 3 million viewers — and meant that the show edged out the Saturday night celebrity talent contest Strictly Come Dancing in the week’s ratings.
At least 500 protesters massed outside Television Centre as Mr Griffin arrived for the taping of the show last week. Three officers were injured during clashes with demonstrators and six protesters arrested.