Cabinet minister Peter Hain has condemned the BBC’s ‘shaky handling’ of reporting the BNP after two supporters of the far right party were interviewed on Radio 1’s Newsbeat.
Hain, who was heavily involved in the fight against apartheid in South Africa, writes today in The Guardian: “BBC executives have told me of their obligation to respect the right of a minority who have voted for the BNP. However, that right is already adequately upheld in BNP party election broadcasts, and when they are interviewed on political programmes such as Today or Newsnight – although the recent Radio 1 Newsbeat interview with two ‘young BNP members’ casts serious doubt on the BBC’s grip of the subject.”
On 1 October, Newsbeat interviewed “two young guys who are members of the BNP”. Hayne has criticised the BBC for not revealing that the pair were BNP publicity director Mark Collett and Joseph Barber, who runs BNP record label Great White Records.
Hain said: “If the content were not distasteful enough – descriptions of the London-born England footballer Ashley Cole as ‘not ethnically British’ and ‘coming to this country’ passed without proper challenge – even more worrying is the revelation that these members, still introduced simply as Joey and Mark on the BBC website, are key members of the BNP hierarchy…Would the BBC allow any other party’s spin doctors to appear anonymously? The interview was in clear breach of basic journalistic practice, and of official BBC and National Union of Journalist guidelines.
“While this episode underlines the corporation’s shaky handling of reporting the BNP, Question Time – the BBC’s premier political programme – falls into an entirely different category. There the BBC will be showcasing the BNP on a panel alongside the mainstream parties as an equally legitimate, respectable, democratic political party, when it is nothing of the kind.”
Writing on the BBC editors’ blog, Newsbeat editor Rod McKenzie said: “We’re impartial – that means we should examine all political parties and put their representatives on the spot with fair and firm questioning. Impartial journalism and censorship do not sit happily together.
“We believe in getting the facts and the arguments out there for people to decide – not in judging what is ‘right’ or ‘wrong” in a political context – that’s for you to do.
“The BNP are not an illegal party. They enjoy electoral support and have elected representatives. It is the BBC’s job to properly examine all legitimate political parties that operate within the law and for which people clearly vote.”
Clause 10 of the NUJ code of conduct states: “A journalist shall neither originate nor process material which encourages discrimination, ridicule, prejudice or hatred…”