When it comes to expertise, the Walter Mitty-like figure of Raheem “call me Ray” Kassam, sad Mini-Me to the deeply unpleasant Steve Bannon, has little to offer, save for the relentless pursuit of More And Bigger Media Opportunities For Himself Personally Now. Despite this shortcoming, he was invited on to the BBC Radio 4 Today Programme earlier this week to champion Stephen Yaxley Lennon, who styles himself Tommy Robinson.
Kassam used the platform given him - without challenge, please note - to tell the world that people like Steve Bannon were not far-right, that UKIP should be led once more by its former Oberscheissenführer Nigel “Thirsty” Farage, that the authorities had been jolly rotten to his pal Lennon, and much more. But, despite the pretence otherwise, he has no legal expertise, as Zelo Street can readily testify.
So why was Kassam allowed on Today, and allowed on without challenge? Climate scientists find themselves confronted by shouty climate change deniers. The Observer’s Carole Cadwalladr was asked on, but declined after finding that her findings would be the subject of debate, reduced to mere opinion rather than fact. Even the Governor of the Bank of England received a hostile reception on Today this morning.
This question has taxed George Peretz QC, who has mused “There’s a serious concern here. And it isn’t really much to do with the right to free speech … It is still true in our democracy (despite social media) that broadcast news and current affairs are a key platform and source of news and information about politics” before going into detail.
“Access to broadcast media (and certainly to popular programmes like @BBCr4today or @bbcquestiontime) is necessarily a scarce resource. So editors of those programmes play an important gatekeeper function to our discourse on political issues … It is therefore entirely consistent with a fierce belief in free speech to have serious concerns about the choices made by (for example) @BBCr4today or @bbcquestiontime in deciding who gets a platform”. Then came his tests on whether those appearing should be there.
“First, do they represent voters (eg MPs) or significant groups of voters (eg genuine membership bodies with a significant membership)? … Second, do they have power? If so, then part of the accountability that comes with power is that they are asked questions about the use of that power … Third, do they have expertise or experience, so that their view is likely to be particularly informative?”. And his conclusion?
“Applying those tests to @BBCr4today this morning, I can’t see any reason why Raheem Kassam was asked to appear. He represents no one. He has no relevant power. And he has no expertise in the area”. Peretz also singles out the so-called Taxpayers’ Alliance as failing to fulfil any of his three criteria. Moreover, many pundits who appear on Question Time, and indeed the BBC’s politics shows, also fail to fulfil any of them.
So why was Kassam given a platform to shoot his mouth off? Once again, the questions pile up for Today’s under-fire editor Sarah Sands - as well as that strange stance on anything to do with misconduct surrounding the 2016 EU referendum.
Perhaps we will get answers to those questions. But don’t bet on it.
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