Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Far-right leader a ratings coup for BBC

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LONDON -- The controversial debut of Britain's far-right leader on a flagship television debate show has been a ratings bonanza for the BBC, but it's unclear whether British National Party chief Nick Griffin gained from all the attention.

About 8 million people watched Griffin slam Islam as a wicked faith, express his disgust at homosexuals and defend the Ku Klux Klan on the BBC's Question Time program on Thursday -- as much as quadruple the show's usual audience. The 30-year-old Question Time program gathers Britain's leading public figures in a panel to take questions on current events from a studio audience. However, much of Thursday night's show was devoted to Griffin's attempts to shake allegations of Nazi sympathies and Holocaust denial. Pundits said his performance exposed him as a political novice, with one fellow panelist reportedly saying Griffin was shaking under the pressure. Griffin acknowledged the show was "hard-going," telling The Associated Press afterward the taping had been "a bit like a boxing match."

The BNP said it has recorded 15 million hits to its website in the past three days, amid a furor over Griffin's appearance, and that 3,000 people have signed up to become new members. The figures could not be independently verified. An editorial in the left-wing Guardian newspaper warned the show could help the University of Cambridge-educated radical "inch away from the margins."

But many others said Griffin had self-destructed. "Griffin looked exactly what he is: A pathetic bigot whose only policy is to ask voters to drink from the poisoned well of racism," The Sun, Britain's top-selling daily, said in its editorial. The whites-only BNP opposes immigration and claims to fight for "indigenous" Britons. Griffin has a conviction for racial hatred and has denied the Holocaust in the past.

But the party has tried to shed its thuggish image and enter the political mainstream. This year it won two European Union parliament seats, gaining six per cent of British votes in European polls. It has no seats in the British Parliament.

 

-- The Associated Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 24, 2009 A20

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