BNP row reignites over reply to party leaders' TV debates

The major broadcasters face anger after deciding to invite Nick Griffin, the British National Party leader, to reply to the televised Prime Ministerial debates during the general election campaign.

The BBC, ITV and Sky this week reached agreement on the format of the three encounters between Gordon Brown, David Cameron and Nick Clegg.

They have also agreed to give three other parties with substantial electoral support – the Green Party, the UK Independence Party and the BNP – the opportunity to respond.

The decision threatens a rerun of the protests faced by BBC after Mr Griffin appeared on BBC1’s Question Time last October.

Tonight the corporation confirmed it would give him a fresh platform immediately after the end of the BBC-hosted debate between the Tory, Labour and Lib Dem leaders.

He will be invited, along with Caroline Lucas of the Greens and Nigel Farage of UKIP, to give interviews on BBC1’s News at Ten and BBC2’s Newsnight, as well as on Radio 4’s Today programme the following morning.

ITV said it would also give a platform to the BNP leader, and Sky looks certain to follow suit.

A spokesman for BBC News said the decision was aimed at ensuring that “due impartiality is achieved in line with its election guidelines”.

The BBC argues it is legally required to give airtime to the far-Right party because of the electoral support it attracted during the European elections, when it won two seats in the European Parliament.

ITV said: “We will be ensuring that we include an appropriately wide range of views throughout our election coverage.”

But a spokesman for Searchlight, the anti-fascist organisation, said: “The BNP are being allowed to hijack the election debates.”

The BNP will also be entitled to at least one party political broadcast on each channel because of the large number of candidates it is fielding.

Mr Griffin’s appearance on Question Time attracted 7.9 million viewers, almost three times its usual audience.

Police mounted a major security operation outside Television Centre while Mr Griffin was inside, but failed to prevent demonstrators briefly getting into the building.

Both UKIP and the Green Party said yesterday they were unhappy at not being invited to participate in the main debates between the leaders.

Mr Farage said: “We think the way it has been set up is unfair. We came second across the UK in the European elections last year.”

A spokesman for the Green Party said: “We would have thought the broadcasters would recognise the Green Party has a strong claim to being part of the main debate.”

The BBC is to hold separate party leader election debates in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, it has also confirmed.

But in a joint statement the Scottish National Party and Plaid Cmyru yesterday denounced the “unfair treatment of Welsh and Scottish licence fee payers who are being denied the opportunity by the public broadcaster to hear from their respective national parties in these set-piece leaders’ debates.”

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