Anger over BBC slot for far-right party

British National Party, BNP, leader Nick Griffin speaks in front of a BNP banner in Manchester, England. (AP Photo/Dave Thompson/PA Wire, File)
British National Party, BNP, leader Nick Griffin speaks in front of a BNP banner in Manchester, England. (AP Photo/Dave Thompson/PA Wire, File)
To the outrage of many Britons, a white-supremacist fringe party riding a wave of electoral success has been invited to participate in a BBC prime-time TV show on politics.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown's Labour Party government says it is appalled that the far right British National Party will get such high-profile exposure to millions of viewers. The BBC, however, says as a publicly funded broadcaster it must cover all political parties that have a national presence.

"It's not for the BBC to make decisions about what parties it does and doesn't like," a BBC spokesman said Tuesday on condition of anonymity in line with company policy. "That, quite rightly, is a decision for the electorate."

The BNP, which opposes immigration and says it fights for "indigenous" Britons, wants to become a force in British politics.

Although it isn't likely to gain a seat in the national Parliament because of Britain's first-past-the-post electoral system, the BNP serves on several city councils and made an electoral breakthrough in June, when it took about 6 percent of the British vote in European elections, winning two EU parliament seats.

On Thursday, BNP leader Nick Griffin is scheduled to appear on the BBC's flagship political debate show "Question Time" - a highly valued imprimatur of political respectability.

A senior Cabinet minister, Justice Secretary Jack Straw, is supposed to be on the same programme, where panelists are questioned on current affairs by a studio audience.

The far right party is so pleased with the invite that it is counting down the seconds until the broadcast on its website.

The government and anti-racist groups say the invitation to Griffin legitimises fascist views, and protesters have vowed to picket Thursday's taping at the BBC's West London studios.

Welsh Secretary Peter Hain - a former anti-apartheid activist - has called on the BBC to drop Griffin from the programme, saying the party is "an unlawful body" because historically it has not allowed nonwhite people to be members.

Last week the BNP agreed to change its constitution to accept nonwhite members after it was taken to court by the Equality and Human Rights Commission.

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