By Jill Lawless Associated Press
LONDON — Police say that about 25 protesters have breached security today around the BBC’s Television Center during a rally against a far-right leader’s appearance on the broadcaster’s leading political debate show.
Scotland Yard says about two dozen people pierced police lines and are on the premises of BBC Television’s west London headquarters. The force said it was not immediately clear whether any had made it inside.
The BBC says that one or two people may have made it into the building’s reception area. Television footage later showed police pulling people away from the area.
British National Party chief Nick Griffin is scheduled to be a panelist on the BBC television program “Question Time” later today. It’s a first for his far-right party. Justice Secretary Jack Straw, a senior member of the governing Labour Party Cabinet, is due to appear on today’s show alongside Griffin.
Many politicians have condemned the invitation to Griffin, but the BBC says that as a publicly funded broadcaster it must cover all political parties that have a national presence.
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.
The party has tried to shed its thuggish image and enter the political mainstream. Earlier this year it won two European Union parliament seats, gaining 6 percent of British votes in European polls. It has no seats in the British Parliament.
The invitation to appear in front of several million TV viewers has divided Britain, but delighted the BNP, which is counting down the seconds until the broadcast on its Web site.
It has sparked a debate between free-speech advocates and those who say giving Griffin a platform lends legitimacy to unacceptable views and could provoke racist violence.
Earlier today, several dozen demonstrators handed leaflets to staff outside BBC Television Center. Campaigners said they expected hundreds more to show up later when the show was being recorded.
Griffin said he expected a hostile reception, but had a right to be heard, and insisted his views had been misrepresented.
“If these people would only let us say what we want to say and then argue with what we’ve actually got to say instead of creating monsters and then being wound up about the monsters, everyone would get on far better,” Griffin said.
The head of the Muslim Council of Britain, Muhammad Abdul Bari, said “allowing the BNP to air its toxic views will increase Islamophobia and give the BNP aura of respectability needed to spread their message of hate.”
Labour lawmaker Andy Slaughter, who joined the protest outside BBC Television Center, called the invitation to Griffin irresponsible.
“Cutting through the dinner party conversation about freedom of speech, the practical impact it is going to have on Muslim, black and Asian communities is reason enough not to give the BNP a platform,” he said.
But Prime Minister Gordon Brown said Griffin’s appearance would expose the party’s “racist and bigoted” views.
He told radio station Real Radio that the invitation to Griffin “was a decision of the BBC. We are not trying to interfere with the decision of the BBC.”
The BBC is wary of government interference in its political coverage. In the 1980s, the Conservative government banned radio and TV appearances by members of the IRA-linked Sinn Fein party. The broadcaster hired actors to read their words instead.
BBC Director General Mark Thompson said excluding Griffin would amount to censorship.
Writing in The Guardian newspaper today, Thompson said the BNP “has demonstrated a level of support that would normally lead to an occasional invitation to join the panel on ‘Question Time.’”
“It’s very dangerous,” Hain said. “Once you treat them as equal amongst the others they gain ground; we saw that in Nazi Germany.”