Audience members for the Question Time edition featuring BNP chief Nick Griffin are being rigorously' vetted by BBC producers to weed out likely anti-fascist demonstrators, it was confirmed today.
BBC bosses fear protesters could disrupt the recording of the programme, due to take place at the Wood Lane studios on 22 October. As well as filling out the normal detailed questionnaire, applicants to become audience members will also be checked for membership or involvement in organisations such as Unite Against Facism. Many are likely to be questioned personally and be asked to prove their identities on the door.
Unite Against Facism, which is planning a mass blockade of the BBC studios on the day, has also urged its supporters to apply to join the audience, putting a link on its website to the audience application form.
The Corporation has confirmed that it is working closely with the Metropolitan Police and Hammersmith and Fulham council to keep a lid on the protests. The council is concerned at the potential for disruption to local people and has asked the BBC to pay for extra policing, which the Corporation has rejected.
Today, the BBC said it would not discuss security issues ahead of the programme, which will also feature justice minister Jack Straw and black writer and academic Bonnie Greer. But a Corporation insider said: "Question Time has been going for many years and they have very tried and tested procedures for weeding out potential troublemakers which for obvious reasons cannot be aired publicly.
"But it is a very rigorous process. Because it is a programme which has featured cabinet ministers and others for whom security is an important consideration, the people involved in producing the programme are extremely aware of what needs to be done to make sure there is no danger or disruption from the audience."
Before being accepted, audience applicants are asked what political party they support, whether they back the leader of that party and their views on issues such as the Iraq war and Europe. Scotland Yard intelligence officers are also likely to be closely monitoring the demonstrators in order to head off any planned disruption.
Corporation sources have dismissed suggestions that the recording could be brought forward to avoid the protests, which are due to begin with a picket line at 9am on the day. Similar protests are planned at other BBC studios around the country. Question Time is normally recorded live at 8.30 pm, two hours before transmission, which also allows any disruption or interruptions to be edited out.
The possibility of moving the recording to another location has been considered and although ruled out at the moment, BBC sources have stressed the security situation is being monitored on a daily basis.
The source added: "What would be the point of moving it elsewhere when the Metropolitan Police has extensive experience of dealing with protests in London generally and outside the BBC in particular, where there are demonstrations over something almost every week. At the same time, the studios as Wood Lane are themselves a fairly secure environment, which is one of the reasons why the programme is being recorded there in the first place."
Most editions of the programme are recorded in public or significant buildings around the country, which would be less secure. It was also pointed out that given the large public involvement, shifting the programme to another studio at the last minute was a difficult proposition - and moving it sooner increased the likelyhood of the new location being leaked.
London Evening Standard