BBC3’s Free Speech programme is a good example of why the channel deserves to be shut down. Aimed at giving a voice to young people it is endlessly dumbing-down, seeks validity through instant Twitter reactions and all in all is a very degrading programme to appear on. I know because a couple of years ago I was on the first series and spent an evening at an ice rink in Doncaster debating the key issues of the day with a ‘Page 3 model’ and Owen Jones. Even now it makes me shiver.
Anyhow – last night the show came from outside the Birmingham Central mosque. The panel included Mehdi Hasan and Julie Burchill’s friend, Paris Lees, who complained in the early part of the show that nobody had given her a job. But the interesting thing is what happened later in the show when discussion was due to turn to what the presenter said ‘had caused the most comments on the audience question page’. This is usually the nirvana of the programme. But the short film that followed came from ‘Britain’s first and we think only gay Muslim drag queen’.
What followed was interesting, finishing with the film’s subject asking pertinently: ‘one question I would like to ask the Muslim community is “when will it be right to be Muslim and gay?”’
If anybody thought that BBC3 would relish the moment to discuss just that, there were other ideas. The short film finished and the presenter, Rick Edwards, said: ‘We were going to debate that question but today after speaking to the mosque they have expressed deep concerns with having this discussion here. The mosque were happy for us to play that video and we will talk about it on our next programme on March 25th. So we’ll move on to our next question’. And on it all moved.
The next question was about a totally different topic and constituted an underarm bowl to Paris Lees, self-styled ‘equalities campaigner’, who used the opportunity to claim that rich middle class white men are ‘running the show’ in this country. You might have thought an ‘equalities campaigner’ would use such a moment to ask why there is anywhere in this country where genuine homophobia is not only possible but so de rigeur that nobody in the studio would even bat an eyelid when somebody says they don’t want homosexuality to be debated outside the mosque, never mind inside. But no – like the idea of ‘free speech’ itself, ‘equalities campaigners’ tend to be deeply selective in what they raise or rail against.
I do hope BBC3 closes. Its comedy was never funny and its Free Speech isn’t free.