Saturday 4 February 2017

"Do you think it is responsible to have him on?"

As regular ITBB readers will know, Newswatch presenter Samira Ahmed has been using Twitter, blogposts and newspaper articles for months now to air her concerns about the BBC's 'normalisation' or 'enabling' of people like Nigel Farage. 

She thinks he's "pushing the boundaries of acceptable discourse" into unacceptable territory and, as a former leader of UKIP, should not be receiving so many invites from the BBC. 

This week's Newswatch discussed that very topic, giving a platform to like-minded viewers.

It was a bit odd watching Samira doing her normal 'giving viewers a voice' routine (which she usually does very well) whilst knowing that she shares exactly the same views and that it must be music to her ears. (Did she have a say in choosing the topic?)

She certainly struck me as doing rather more than playing devil's advocate when she grilled the producer today.

Watch for yourselves here or peruse the transcript below at your leisure:

Samira Ahmed: That debate will certainly continue, but there was at least one BBC programme that featured a clear defence of President Trump's travel ban - BBC1's Sunday Politics. The guest was Nigel Farage, and Andrew Neil began by asking him if he agreed with the President's decision to bar Syrian refugees indefinitely from entering the United States. 
Nigel Farage: You know, there are seven countries on that list. He's entitled to do this. He was voted in on this ticket. Andrew Neil: I didn't ask you if he was entitled. That's not my point of contention. I asked you if you agreed with it. Nigel Farage: Well, I do. Because I think that if you just look at what is happening in France and Germany, if you look at Mrs Merkel's policy on this, which was to allow anybody in, virtually from anywhere, look what it's led to. 
Samira Ahmed: The former leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party went on to discuss his views on immigration, and on the government's process for leaving the European Union. And the interview produced a strong reaction from viewers, many of whom have objected before about the frequency of his appearances on BBC news bulletins, and programmes such as Question Time. Two viewers recorded their thoughts for us on camera. 
Viewer 1: The aim is balance and this isn't balance. This is a platform. His constant appearances on TV and radio, not just on the BBC, are a major contribution, I think, to the rise in anti-immigrant sentiment in this country in the last few years. I think it's time the BBC recognised that Nigel Farage isn't just some politician you wheel on to give a microphone to when someone says something nice about refugees. He is a rallying point. 
Viewer 2The BBC treats Nigel Farage as good box office, giving him photo opportunities in pubs, hugely disproportionate access to political shows from BBC Question Time to Daily Politics, Sunday Politics, and much more. By doing so, and by not challenging him, partly because he was treated in the first stages as just good box office, as light entertainment, they helped normalise his views and helped him to put things without challenge that actually affected the whole way the debate moved. This happened from the very beginning and it's only in the last two years that he's started to be challenged a bit, and by that time the normalisation had happened. 
Samira AhmedWell, Hugh Milbourn from the Sunday Politics programme joins me now. Why did you have Nigel Farage on? 
Hugh MilbournWell, the main stories this week were Theresa May's visit to Washington, and then there was a subsequent massive story, which has dominated the headlines this week, of Donald Trump's travel ban. And the other big story of the week was of course on Brexit, and the Commons debates about the passage of Article 50. So those were big stories. And then Nigel Farage was a guest, an appropriate guest, on both those stories. He was the first British politician to meet Donald Trump, after his election, and obviously he was a massive player in the referendum campaign. 
Samira AhmedA lot of viewers say he's not UKIP leader now and he may not be as close to Trump as he claims to be. 
Hugh MilbournWell, we regularly, on the BBC, invite politicians on to our programmes - ex-leaders. Ed Miliband's been on the BBC this week, for example. Nick Clegg's a regular guest on our programmes. So it's not unusual that we should invite someone on a programme who isn't currently leader of their party...
Samira Ahmed (interrupting): But they are also both MPs and Nigel Farage has never been an MP. 
Hugh MilbournYeah, but he is an MEP, he has been elected by the British people as an MEP by his constituents. And he is also leader of his party's political group in the European Parliament, so he is still a person of some influence. 
Samira AhmedA lot of viewers say he is just easy ratings, isn't he? He always has been. And you know, when you invite him on, he'll say something controversial. 
Hugh MilbournNo, I mean, he represents a strand of political thinking in the United Kingdom. There is no doubt about that. As party leader he had a track record of political success. So, for example, his party came first in the European elections in 2014. At the general election in 2015 the party in the popular vote came third. So this is someone who we aren't able to exclude from our programmes. He has got a track record of electoral success, and he does represent a strand of political thinking in British politics. 
Samira AhmedMany people do find what he says offensive - particularly, as we heard in those viewers comments there. His comments on immigration in the current climate, people feel that he's stirred up anti-immigrant sentiment. Do you think it is responsible to have him on? 
Hugh MilbournWell, not everyone is going to like what he says and there are all sorts of people that we get on our programmes that some of our viewers are going to disagree with. 
Samira AhmedIt's not just that they disagree, though, is it? It's about whether it's responsible, when some people feel there is a growing climate of tension around immigration and the BBC chooses to have on someone that viewers feel holds views that stirring up anti-immigrant sentiment. 
Hugh MilbournThe BBC just can't be involved in making value judgements about politicians...
Samira Ahmed (interrupting): Ethical judgements. 
Hugh MilbournThey can't. Not when they come from a major party. UKIP is a major party, there is no doubt about that. We can't be making value judgements about whether what they've got to say is morally dubious. That is not our role. We are an impartial broadcaster. There is no evidence that Nigel Farage has ever said anything that is illegal, for example, has never been a risk. I don't think he should be treated any differently than any other politician from any of the other major political parties in the United Kingdom. 
Samira AhmedYou obviously work on Sunday Politics and Daily Politics, but you will know we have great viewer concern about how often Farage is invited onto BBC programmes generally, including Question Time. We also know of course that he now has his own radio show on commercial radio. Do you think the BBC does have him on too often? 
Hugh MilbournWell, I know from our outlets, the Daily Politics and the Sunday Politics, it's only the second time he's been on in the last six months. I think he has made about half a dozen other appearances in terms of interviews or being part of panels or part of the discussions on BBC television over the last six months. So I don't think that that is too great a number. And of course on our programmes, obviously Andrew Neil is a very robust interviewer and we always want politicians of the highest calibre from whatever political party. 
Samira AhmedHugh Milbourn, thank you very much.

P.S. A Newswatch viewer tweets in response:


  1. I have always thought Samira is a bit thick. I think she genuinely doesn't understand the principle of free speech. She's got a "Head Girl" attitude that the school wishes to hear lots of different voices as long as they all support the Head Teacher and the school's ethos. She really doesn't see any contradiction between "free speech" and "being responsible".

    I notice she had no answer to Mibourn's reply to her boring and oft-repeated observation that Farage is not an MP: "Yeah, but he is an MEP, he has been elected by the British people as an MEP by his constituents. And he is also leader of his party's political group in the European Parliament, so he is still a person of some influence."

    Ahmed's position is completley illogical. She claims that the "impartial" BBC should only feature "responsible" (which for her means politically correct) views unless he person is an MP. The BBC cannot be impartial if it features only politically correct views. And it is not at all clear why an MP has more licence to give their views than an MEP, an MSP, or a county councillor.

    I seriously doubt that the Ahmed Doctrine would go unamended if Nuttall was elected to the Commons.

  2. The Importance of Being Hugh. Bill Sykes will be livid.

    I fear any attempt at questioning political GDJ (Gob Du Jour) on the BBC rather stalls when Ken and Di and alternating with Polly and Owen.

  3. Did Ahmend just dismiss the Daily/Sunday Politics as being some sort of niche anorak show with a limited audience? "We have great viewer concern," eh? Whatever happened to Complaints From Both Sides? I bet they tell people complaining about Farage's lack of appearance that complaints show they get it about right.


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