A BBC Trust committee chaired by former ITN editor-in-chief Richard Tait has rejected an appeal made by cabinet minister Peter Hain and others to block British National Party leader Nick Griffin appearing on tonight’s Question Time.
A hastily arranged ad hoc committee of the Trust last night ruled it would undermine the editorial independence of the BBC if it were to hear 11th hour appeals against the BBC Executive’s decision to allow Griffin to appear on its flagship current affairs show.
The committee said that hearing appeals would be inconsistent with the BBC’s constitutional arrangements that its governing body does not intervene in programmes before they have been transmitted.
The Trust said: “An ad hoc committee of three Trustees today considered two appeals, one from Peter Hain MP, the other from a member of the publicâ€¦
“They took the view that the Charter and Agreement establishes the Director-General as editor-in-chief of the BBC – the individual responsible for the editorial content of BBC programmes.
“The Charter also makes clear that the BBC Trust should not exercise the functions of the Executive. This carries the clear implication that the Trust should not attempt to take upon itself the role of editor-in-chief.”
The Trust, which replaced the board of governors at the beginning of 2007, was always unlikely to take any drastic action as it has never intervened before a programme has aired.
Hain wrote to BBC Trust chairman, Sir Michael Lyons, arguing that Griffin should not be allowed to appear because the BNP is not a “lawfully constituted political party”.
The Welsh secretary’s letter was a last resort after Mark Thompson, the director general of the BBC, earlier rebuffed Hain’s call for him to block Griffin’s appearance.
Richard Tait, Trust committee chairman, said: “Until it is broadcast, the content of Thursday’s Question Time is entirely a matter for the Director-General acting as the BBC’s editor-in-chief, and we have impressed upon him his duty to ensure the programme is fully compliant with the law and with the BBC’s published editorial guidelines.
“Once the programme has been broadcast, any member of the public who feels it breaches the guidelines can make use of the established BBC complaints process to make their case.”
Writing in the Guardian today, Mark Thompson defended the corporation’s decision to invite the BNP leader on to Question Time and challenged the government to change the law if it wants to censor the far-right group.
Thompson said ministers would have to impose a broadcasting ban on the party – as Margaret Thatcher did with Sinn FÃ©in in the 1980s – before the BBC would consider breaching its “central principle of impartiality”.