Question Time presenter David Dimbleby said last night he wanted to “expose” British National Party leader Nick Griffin to an audience on the show before the last general election.
Dimbleby defended the BBC’s controversial decision to invite Griffin onto the corporation’s flagship current affairs show in October, saying the size of the audience the programme generated was justification for the move.
Griffin’s appearance drew almost eight million viewers.
Dimbleby told BBC Radio 4’s Front Row programme: “I did a lot of work with the producers, chapter and verse, of everything that Nick Griffin had said and I thought we did it the right way and I thought it worked well.
“It got an enormous audience. I think people are very scathing sometimes about audiences but the fact that in the end something like 10 million people saw that programme, either when it went out or afterwards, is the vindication of itâ€¦
“There seems to be no difference in the voting strength of the BNP as a result. I mean he got a tough time, I agree with that, but then what do you expect?”
Dimbleby said he had been arguing with the BBC about having Griffin on the show “before the last election four or five years ago”.
He said: “The idea of exposing the BNP or, to put it more objectively or disinterestedly, allowing the BNP to face an audience and face questions from them seemed to me to be the right thing to do as long as they were a substantial political party or a party big enough to be included.
“Respect comes on so why shouldn’t the BNP. They’re not an illegal party.”
Dimbleby said the BBC then “set this hurdle” of the BNP having to achieve some form of parliamentary representation before they could be invited on the show.
He said: “When they [BBC] said yes we’ll go with this, my first feeling was one ofâ€¦good, that’s a good decision.
“The work that had to go into how to do it, of course, became complicated because if you put the BNP on people don’t want to talk to them about the Post Office strike.
“They want to talk about race; they want to talk about immigration, his [Griffin’s] views on that. They want to talk about the connections with the Ku Klux Klan, all those things.
“We realised that the audience would come, as indeed they did, a London audience, with a whole lot of questions about the BNP on race and so we stuck with that.”