Archive | December, 2009

Freedom of speech is a right, but a TV appearance is by invitation only

28 Dec

Nick Griffin beside David Dimbleby

This winter even the politically apathetic were drawn into the debate – nay battle – as to whether Nick Griffin, leader of the British National Party (BNP), should appear on the BBC’s Question Time as a panelist.

But as far as I am concerned, this discussion started two years ago, in October 2007, when Nick Griffin appeared at the Oxford Union to speak on freedom of speech.  Back then I wrote in to the Independent:

The issue at hand in last night’s events at the Oxford Union was not the policies of the BNP.  Nor was it their right to freedom of speech.  The chaos arose because Luke Tryl, President of the Union, invited Nick Griffin and David Irving to speak specifically about freedom of speech.

Had the leader of the BNP been invited to debate the policies of his party, Tryl’s desire to “crush” the BNP through reasoned debate could have been fulfilled.  But asking him to talk about free speech made him appear qualified to comment on this liberal ideal, when in reality Griffin’s party would, in power, see speech free only to its supporters.

The protestors somewhat undermined their cause with slogans attacking the “fascist BNP”.  But, for many, it was the pretext under which Griffin was invited to the Union that was objectionable, not his freedom to speak per se.  But, as so often, the reasonable opposition was lost among hot-headed protest.

Whilst everyone should be allowed to voice their opinions, an invitation to the Oxford Union is an honour rather than a right.  Luke Tryl was not under pressure to accept Irving or Griffin into the Union; he actively requested them to come.  As much as he claims to find their ideas abhorrent, sharing sherry and small-talk with them in the inner chambers of the Union does not smack of disapproval.

That was two years ago, but the same applies this winter.  Freedom of speech is a human right not to be denied anyone.  But appearing at the Oxford Union or on Question Time is a privilege, not to be granted to a man intent on muzzling the very freedom of speech that allows him a voice.