Listeners were not pleased when the public broadcaster announced it would transmit Enoch Powell's infamous speech for the first time ever.
BBC media editor Amor Rajan failed to read the room when he proudly announced on Twitter that BBC Radio 4 would be broadcasting a reading of Enoch Powell’s Rivers of Blood speech on Saturday.
The programme, hosted to mark the 50th anniversary of the infamous speech on Saturday, was met with anger from listeners, pundits and politicians.
Labour peer Andrew Adonis quickly jumped on the announcement, tweeting:
“Now the BBC thinks there is a public service in broadcasting Enoch Powell’s ‘rivers of blood’ speech, what next? Oswald Mosley’s memoirs? Genghis Khan’s views on peacemaking?”
When Rajan apologised for not explaining that the programme would include commentary and criticism to the speech, Adonis said the BBC senior journalist was “very naive” for producing the show at all.
The decision to broadcast the Rivers of Blood speech in full shows how commitments to ‘free speech’ and ‘balance’ are quickly warped by right-wingers into a mandate to air their racist vitriol unchallenged.
— Eleanor Penny (@eleanorkpenny) April 12, 2018
I suppose given that we seem to be in the middle of the Home Office deporting Britons who arrived from the Caribbean in the 1960s I guess it makes sense for the BBC to broadcast Enoch Powell's speech https://t.co/3xNVHzNiTO
— Martin Belam (@MartinBelam) April 12, 2018
The 1968 speech by the then Conservative MP address immigration into Britain in what has been widely recognised as profoundly racist language. Addressing a Tory Party meeting, Powell compared migration into Britain as “a nation busily engaged in heaping up its own funeral pyre.” It was so controversial at the time, it lead to Powell’s dismissal from the shadow cabinet of Conservative leader Edward Heath.
Writer Hussein Kesvani went for a witty retort to the show saying:
“Anyway, glad to hear that at a time when attacks on immigrants are at a high, BBC Radio 4 believe the best thing to do is to broadcast a speech arguing that immigrants drown the country in a ‘river of blood’.”
The speech, which preceded the introduction of the 1968 Race Relations Bill, is to be read out by actor Ian McDiarmid.
Other listeners branded the decision to broadcast the speech “repugnant”, “appalling”, and that the BBC “should be thoroughly ashamed at their irresponsibility.”
The broadcaster has remained silent over the controversy caused by the show.
The controversy follows an extremely public argument held between Owen Jones and Andrew Neill over the alleged neutrality of the BBC.
Joana Ramiro is a reporter for Left Foot Forward. You can follow her on Twitter for all sorts of rants here.
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