Hain Warns BBC Of Legal Action Over BNP Invite

(Reuters) – WELSH SECRETARY PETER HAIN warned the BBC today it could face legal action over its invitation to the leader of the British National Party to appear for the first time on one of its current affairs shows.

Hain, a leading anti-apartheid campaigner before joining parliament, said in a letter to the corporation that its action was ‘unreasonable, irrational and unlawful.’

The BBC announced last month that BNP leader Nick Griffin would be one of the guests on Question Time, a panel show where politicians and commentators discuss issues of the day in front of a studio audience.

The invitation for this Thursday’s programme has caused a political storm. Mainstream parties have previously refused to share a public platform with the BNP to avoid giving it credibility.

The BNP campaigns for a halt to immigration, voluntary repatriation of immigrants, and Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union.

It has no MPs at Westminster; but it does have a number of local councillors and in June won two seats to the European Parliament.

A BBC spokesman said the corporation had invited the BNP to appear in accordance with its public broadcast obligation to offer all political parties ‘due impartiality.’

‘Our assessment was that following the European elections [the BNP] had established a level of electoral support which meant it was appropriate to invite a representative on to an edition of Question Time,’ he added.

Hain, 59, who was born in Kenya and raised in South Africa during the apartheid years, said that as a result of a court agreement last week the BNP had accepted it was an ‘unlawfully constituted party.’

He urged BBC Director General Mark Thompson to suspend the BNP invitation until after a final court hearing in January.

‘If you do not review the decision, you may run the very serious risk of legal challenge, in addition to the moral objections that I make,’ Hain wrote.

The BNP agreed on October 15 to ask its members to amend its constitution to allow non-whites to join, in a bid to fend off court action from equality campaigners.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission had launched legal action against the BNP, arguing the party’s exclusion of potential members on ethnic grounds broke the Race Relations Act.

BNP deputy leader Simon Darby said Hain had been misinformed about the case and was writing ‘nonsense.’

‘At no time did we agree we were an illegal organisation,’ he told Reuters.

He said Hain was desperate to prevent the BNP appearing on Question Time, which regularly attracts an audience of 3 million viewers.

‘We are entitled to put our case to the public,’ said Darby. ‘Hain is denying the right of millions of people to listen to an alternative point of view.’

Protest group Unite Against Fascism said it would hold an all day demonstration against the BNP appearance outside the BBC’s west London studios on Thursday where the programme will be recorded shortly before its evening broadcast.

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