'The World Tonight' featured a report on how some folk singers are furious that their songs are being used by the British National Party. Understandably so.
Ritula Shah's introduction to the report told us that the BNP had adopted the songs in support of 'its right-wing cause'. Paul Moss's report (which, thankfully, stuck to the label 'far-right' rather than just 'right-wing') featured anti-BNP comments from three singers from the newly-formed Folk Against Fascism, as well as a spokesman for the anti-Fascist organisation Searchlight. In the interests of balance though, it featured a very short interview with a BNP spokesman, John Walker, but the party's right-to-reply lasted all of 24 seconds in a segment that lasted 6 minutes 12 seconds - and was well-challenged by Mr Moss himself. The report's whole tone was strongly biased against the BNP.
Shouldn't it be?
The now democratically-elected BNP poses serious ethical and practical problems for all democrats and for all supporters of free-speech - and, of course, for the BBC. How should it treat such a party?
Should it completely ignore them and, so, starve them of the oxygen of publicity? This would surely be a dangerous call in a democracy, especially against a democratically-elected political party. To do so might succeed in starving the BNP or it could, instead, only serve to increase the party's sense of 'martyrdom' (which it seems to get a kick out of) and also give it a mystique that might make it seem even more like the anti-establishment party for the floating protest-voter.
The BBC could instead deny them air-time but discuss them at length. This appears to have been the BBC's general policy in the run-up to June's elections. By not allowing viewers to hear directly from the BNP but still talking about them (negatively) on programme after programme (in interview after interview with spokesmen for the then scandal-hit major political parties) , playing-up the danger they posed and hyping the share-of-the-vote they could get in a worst-case scenario, a strong case can be made (I think) that the BBC helped boost the BNP's share of the vote in those elections (which, otherwise, might have been even smaller than it turned out to be).
So should the BBC treat the BNP as a 'normal' political party, so that voters can see exactly how weird these blood-obsessed people really are? The Big Questions (with 'Nicky' Campbell) featured a discussion on this very subject which, by giving them air-time - if only to discuss whether they should be given air-time at all! -, allowed viewers to hear what these people actually believe. It was revelatory. Someone on the panel who started out saying that the BNP should never be given a platform ended up agreeing that by allowing them such a platform voters were now able to hear just what strange, seriously disturbing people they are - with views to match. This gave the license-fee paying public a very rare and very valuable glimpse behind the respectable image the BNP seeks to present. If people hear it straight from the horse's mouth, they are likely to 'see it' more than when they are forced just to take it on trust.
Similarly gorgeous Shirin Wheeler's interview with Nick Griffin (for the Record: Europe) allowed viewers to hear the BNP leader say that he wants boats carrying African illegal immigrants sunk and a raft chucked in for them to paddle their way back to Libya. (What a shit!) Surely this proves that it's better for voters to see and hear directly what Griffin and Co. say, so that they can damn themselves out of their own mouths.
The BBC should, I think, take the Voltaire line on free-speech, except when it goes beyond the law (and we should be ultra-cautious about restrictive laws in this area). Offensiveness should not be censored, except when physically-dangerous consequences are likely flow from it. Let's hear from all the neo-Nazis, the Islamic extremists, the anarchists and the spokemen for every other kind of unpopular 'righteous' cause. Let's hear them and let's judge them for ourselves.
This balance is always a tricky one, of course. I envy no-one who has to work it out!