Friday, October 23, 2009

Was BNP on Question Time "shameful"?

On Thursday this week [October 22], Nick Griffin, the leader of the British National Party, appeared on the BBC's flagship programme Question Time. His appearance has created controversy, incited protests and brought strong condemnation from both the left and right. Protesters stormed the gates of the BBC and newspapers scorned the decision of allowing the far-right politician to sit on the panel.

Britain's Daily Mail accused the BBC of "publicity-seeking naivety" while the Daily Express called the whole enterprise a "dangerous and shameful moment" for British democracy. The event was covered in many newspapers around the world too. The New York Times and the Wall Street Journal both covered the story in the US. In France the news made the pages of Le Figaro and L'Express, while several publications including Spiegel in Germany made significant mention of the BNP visit to the BBC.

But here in China there was no mention of this important political milestone. To many people, Griffin's views are indeed repugnant and reprehensible. But in a democracy everyone should have the freedom to express their views. tvnewswatch is currently in China where free expression is denied. Views and opinions are stifled and carefully controlled. And the possibility of a programme like Question Time is a dream unlikely to be realized anytime soon. Indeed it would be a nightmare for politicians or party leaders in China to be grilled in the way British politicians are on television and radio.

Voltaire is often incorrectly credited with writing, "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it." However the quotation is apocryphal. These were not his words, but rather those of Evelyn Beatrice Hall, written under the pseudonym S. G. Tallentyre in her 1906 biographical book The Friends of Voltaire. Hall intended to summarize in her own words Voltaire's attitude towards Claude Adrien Helvétius and his controversial book De l'esprit, but her first-person expression was mistaken for an actual quotation from Voltaire. Nonetheless, it is a principle that should be adhered to.

By denying others their voice, however distasteful at times, benefits no-one other than those whose voices are silenced. They themselves may claim they are being silenced because they speak the truth. Such actions may also turn democracies like Britain into totalitarian states like China, Burma, and Iran where free thought and ideas are not only stifled but are often crushed with force. The BBC said that, as a publicly funded broadcaster, it must cover all political parties that have a national presence. While the BNP has no seats in Britain's Parliament, earlier this year the party won two seats in the European elections. The BNP may well revel in the publicity it has gained. But it is only through open debate that truth or lies will be revealed whether spoken by the likes of Griffin or indeed others. His performance on Thursday's programme confirmed what most already believed.

tvnewswatch, Beijing, China

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