BBC stands by Griffin invitation

The BBC tonight stood by its decision to invite British National Party leader Nick Griffin on to Question Time as its governing body debated 11th-hour attempts to block his appearance.

Tonight a specially-convened BBC Trust panel met to consider appeals against the ruling that his participation in the flagship political programme should go ahead.

There has been widespread controversy about Mr Griffin's appearance on Question Time tomorrow, with a protest rally to be held in London tonight and further demonstrations planned during the filming of the show.

Today an academic warned Mr Griffin's appearance could boost support for the BNP as happened when French far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen made his prime-time TV debut in the 1980s.

But Ric Bailey, the BBC's chief political adviser, said the corporation would have been breaking its charter if it had not treated the BNP with impartiality.

The decision to have Mr Griffin on Question Time was based on the party's success in June's European elections, at which it won more than 940,000 votes and two seats, he said.

"We absolutely stand by that judgment, even though there's obviously been a lot of controversy about it," he added.

Welsh Secretary Peter Hain wrote to the BBC Trust asking it to look again at the decision to allow the BNP to "the top table of UK politics".

He argued the party is currently illegal because it does not allow ethnic minorities to join.

His letter to the Trust was a last resort after BBC director general Mark Thompson rejected his arguments.

Mr Hain wrote that Mr Thompson "shows no willingness or ability to genuinely review his own decision" and was "too close to the decision".

In response the Trust set up a special committee, chaired by former Newsnight editor Richard Tait, to consider first whether it can look at the appeals and then - if appropriate - to decide whether they should be upheld.

The panel is expected to report back this evening.

Also appearing on tomorrow's Question Time, which will be filmed at BBC Television Centre in London, are Justice Secretary Jack Straw, shadow community cohesion minister Baroness Warsi, Lib Dem home affairs spokesman Chris Huhne and black writer Bonnie Greer.

Mr Bailey said the panel and audience for the show had been put together in the usual way.

"To all intents and purposes it's a normal programme," he said.

He declined to predict what would happen, saying: "Question Time is a spontaneous show, it's driven by the audience.

"The audience is very carefully selected, it's very difficult to predict how it will turn out."

Mr Hain will send a message of support to a Unite Against Fascism rally being held in central London tonight.

The rally will feature poet and former children's laureate Michael Rosen, director of the Anne Frank Trust Gillian Walnes and Reverend and the Makers frontman Jon McClure.

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