Friday, February 06, 2015

George Galloway in the Lions' Den - did the BBC get it wrong?

George Galloway was a guest on BBC Question Time last night. The programme was recorded in Finchley, North London, former stamping ground of Margaret Thatcher, and is the constituency with the largest Jewish population. Mr Galloway was clearly not destined to have an easy ride.

As it turned out, much of the programme consisted of audience members shouting at Mr Galloway, and his responses often being drowned out by further interruptions. David Dimbleby called for order on several occasions, and finally managed to quiet the crowd when he called for individual comments, though he managed to select two who opposed Mr Galloway, and one in favour.

I've worked with Mr Galloway on radio phone-ins (I took the photo attached to this piece), and though I don't know him well or agree with all his views, I believe he has a perfect right to express them. That's what freedom of speech is about.

The question that caused the row was about the unprecedented rise in anti-Semitic attacks in the UK. It was: “Why is antisemitism rising in the UK and does a certain member of the panel bear some responsibility?”

In response, Mr Galloway said: "Antisemitism is a foul form of racism that in the 1930s led to the Holocaust. If I had been born then I would have been the first in the line in the recruitment office to fight fascism. Everything that has been said here with melancholy about the shadow cast by the rise in Antisemitism could be said many fold about the Islamophobia and fear of Muslims in Britain and attacks on Muslim property. Why can’t we all oppose Antisemitism and Islamophobia? Why not oppose the attacks not only on kosher, but halal?”. That sounds a fair response to me, but audience members kept up their barracking.
I believe the BBC made an error in setting up the show as it did, and the events were inevitable. Question Time is about comments on major news stories, and one of the most prominent, the Government takeover of Rotherham Council after a child abuse enquiry, wasn't even mentioned. Even Nicky Morgan, the Education Secretary had an easy ride, after trying to argue that "flat cash" funding for schools was "Not a cut, since the money stays the same". She clearly hasn't heard of the concept of inflation.

No-one wants to watch a boring debate. However, setting up a situation where one panellist is subjected to abuse by a hostile audience is a shameful editorial act. I'm a huge supporter of the BBC when they get it right. This time they got it wrong.

Picture Credit : Alan Stevens


Stuart Bruce said...

Indeed very similar to what I thought. I wasn't impressed that David Dimbleby called the hecklers to ask the first questions. That just encourages disruptive behaviour, surely better to say he would not take questions from those who continued to disrupt the debate and to have chosen others.

Andy Lopata said...

Question Time has deteriorated substantially in its quest for ratings in the last few years. All ideas of BBC impartiality went out of the window with the repeated appearances of Nigel Farage, even when UKIP were just a fringe lunatic fringe (rather than a semi-popular lunatic fringe).

The Brand/Farage showdown was a classic example. Entertaining yet depressing at the same time. It made good tv but it couldn't possibly be classified as serious political debate.

QT's strength traditionally has been making our rulers accountable directly to the electorate in a very public and accessible forum. Now the mainstream politicians are being shouted down or marginalised by controversial guests and screaming audience members.

I didn't see last night's episode (I've twice been an audience member but I rarely watch now for the reasons stated) but I agree with your comments about Galloway in this context. His appearance on Big Brother was far more offensive than the comments you quote.

However, recent QT behaviour suggests that, as you state, his appearance in Finchley was no coincidence and designed to inflame and offend local opinion.

At best it shows poor judgement, yet again, by the QT producers.

Claire said...

Yes Alan it was wrong. I have little sympathy for George Galloway and he did walk into the lion's den with his eyes wide open. However, it was an obviously distasteful setup by the BBC. He did have a Jewish member of the audience defend him on the charge of anti semitism but unfortunately his anti Israel tirades do have an anti Semitic side effect.