BBC attacked over interview with Tommy Robinson of EDL
Leader of far right group given platform on Today show 'to spout lies and anti-Muslim sentiment'
THE BBC was under fire today for giving a platform to Tommy Robinson, the leader of the English Defence League, who used it to deny that his group was behind a fire at a London Islamic centre, even though the letters EDL had been painted on the building.
"If something was set fire and someone wrote 'David Cameron' on the side of it, does it mean he did it?," asked Robinson, who also implied that the fire had been started by Muslims.
Robinson appeared on Radio 4's Today programme where he was interviewed by Sarah Montague in the aftermath of a court case in which six men were jailed for 117 years for plotting to kill and main EDL members at a rally in Yorkshire.
Although he admitted his organisation used "completely questionable" tactics, Robinson said he "utterly condemned" attacks on Muslims and claimed his organisation was the voice of the white working class.
"I understand people who say you are going about it the wrong way," he said, "but what choice do we have as working-class people, who, as soon as you put your head above the parapet, you call a racist or a fascist?"
Robinson, who has convictions for assault and threatening behaviour, said he "utterly condemned" any violent act. But as the Evening Standard points out, he announced seconds later that he would attack any member of the EDL who performed a Nazi salute in front of him.
The interview brought an immediate wave of criticism. Mirror's political commentator Kevin Maguire said Robinson would "laugh all the way to [the] next EDL brawl". Singer Billy Bragg claimed that he Robinson had aired his views "unopposed". Former Labour MP Denis MacShane accused Today of providing a "non-critical platform" for the EDL.
Another Twitter user accused the BBC of allowing the EDL to "spout lies, racism & anti-Muslim sentiment to millions". Others accused Montague of being under prepared. The Guardian reports that many had asked "why Tommy Robinson, who is not an elected representative, was invited on the flagship programme at all".
Daily Telegraph blogger Dan Hodges says that Robinson, by insisting he opposed violence, "made a pretty good fist of pulling the wool over the eyes of his interviewer Sarah Montague, and the nation as a whole".