Hats off to the BBC.
It could have announced that Nick Griffin was appearing on Question Time a couple of days ago, and then hoped the whole thing would pass off as quietly as possible.
But that would have been boring. Positively Reithian. How much better to turn the appearance of the BNP leader into… an event! Here’s how it was done:
Trail the decision to invite Britain’s favourite fascist onto Question Time at the end of the silly season, ensuring a six-week, slow burn for the story.
Begin to run cross-platform coverage under suitably-provocative banners like “Who’s Afraid of the BNP?”
Use party conference season to gin up interest in who else will be on the show, making sure the big announcements (a cabinet minister!) get plenty of coverage.
Wait eagerly for the inevitable attacks on your decision to give the BNP airtime.
Get your top brass to respond to them with much earnest head-shaking (“this is hurting us, more than it’s hurting you… but we’re doing it for the children democracy”).
As the big day approaches, up the pace of your coverage – a special on Newsnight (make that two!), prominent slots on all of your news and current affairs programmes, regular briefing for the print media.
Then the day of broadcast…
…rile up the demonstrators, leave the gates open long enough for them to invade your offices, then switch on the 24-hour rolling news coverage…
…fuel speculation over whether the guest-of-honour will make it through the crowds, then smuggle him in through a back entrance (having tipped off the paparazzi so they get good snaps)…
…make the whole thing interactive (Have Your Say! phone-ins, Twitter, etc) – a chance for everyone to be involved.
As soon as the programme is over, start milking it for all it’s worth. Get Richard Bacon to ask a BNP councillor how well he thinks his leader’s done. Tell Nicky Campbell to use his phone-in to ask “Was Nick Griffin’s appearance on Question Time a triumph for democracy?” And, of course, Join the Discussion on Our Blog! (how could you not?).
Now obviously, there were some missed opportunities (why no BNP theme for EastEnders? And surely Radio 3 should have had a Wagner special) – but all in all, a proud day for our public service broadcaster.
Hopefully, in its review of the affair, the BBC Trust (“getting the best out of the BBC for licence payers”) will not look simply at Question Time itself, but will explore the multi-media phenomenon in the round.
How many broadcast hours were dedicated to the event? Website inches? Weeks of work by the BBC’s queens and kings of media hype?
And how good were the results from making the news, rather than just reporting it? What were the ratings/hits/coverage like? How long has the BBC spent on the front pages? Are people talking about its ‘event’ at work?