BBC defends handling of far-right Tommy Robinson supporter on Question Time

A Question Time audience member rolls his eyes as another says the country has 'had enough' of immig

A Question Time audience member rolls his eyes as another says the country has 'had enough' of immigration. Photograph: BBC. - Credit: Archant

The BBC has defended its handling of a 'far-right activist' who appeared on Question Time and made factually inaccurate claims about immigrants and health tourism.

The corporation has been urged to review its practices on the programme and on social media after the comments of a woman - who was later identified as a Tommy Robinson supporter - were shared by the programme on Twitter without further context or a fact check.

SNP MP Tommy Sheppard wrote to BBC bosses leading calls for a review into the programme.

He said: "I was deeply disappointed that the audience member was not challenged on these plainly incorrect assertions, but even more surprised that Question Time then clipped this contribution and posted to their Twitter site without any fact-checking or context.

"Question Time used to use their social media outlets to 'live' fact-check contributions from panellists and the audience, as well as giving context to each question asked by the audience. Rather than carelessly clipping these inflammatory contributions on immigration, I suggest that Question Time looks to reinstate the more informative and engaging fact-checking as part of their social media strategy."

An audience member on Question Time calls for government to close all the borders. Photograph: BBC.

An audience member on Question Time calls for government to close all the borders. Photograph: BBC. - Credit: Archant

Columnist Tim Walker wrote: "Grotesquely irresponsible of Question Time to be actively spreading racist nonsense. They should delete this tweet immediately."

"This explains why Brexit happened," said commentator Steve Richards. "The widely held view and programmes like Question Time deliberately raising the temperature to boiling point as a form of entertainment."

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"This is how racism and far right extremism is normalised and legitimised," posted Owen Jones in reply to the programme's tweet. "This is a vile, unhinged rant, packed full of lies and hate, and the BBC decide to uncritically clip it so it can be easily shared across social media."

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But the BBC said it looked for "a range of opinions and views on every topic" and said it was "therefore inevitable" there would be some audience members that viewers disagreed with.

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They said last week's episode "included a debate about immigration which featured a broad range of views from the audience members and panellists" and that "Fiona offered the panel the opportunity to respond to the points raised".

It continues: "Ash Sarkar strongly refuted the audience member's claims before the debate continued and we heard from other members of the panel and our audience on this issue.

"We recognise that some of our viewers would have preferred that Fiona interrupted this particular audience member more quickly but we are satisfied that in the generality of the debate we ensured that different perspectives and viewpoints were heard.

"As a programme we are a forum for discussion and therefore never take a view on the comments made by our panellists or audience members.

"We do want to assure you, however, that all content that we publish adheres to the BBC's editorial and legal guidelines."

The spokesperson reiterated that the BBC had shared five different clips of people talking immigration on the programme through its social media channels.

"We note that some of these posts have also been widely discussed and shared in keeping with our core obligation around ensuring that our audiences on social and digital as well as television and radio get a balanced summary of the debate in question."

It is a contrast to the handling of a complaint about Naga Munchetty, when the corporation deemed the presenter had overstepped the mark for criticising comments made by president Trump when he told female Democrat politicians to "go back" to their own countries.

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