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The Stirrer’s Talk-In Radio Blog (1)

BORN TO BE WILDERS

14-02-2009

Twin Towers October 2000

Picture: © Andrew Goff

In the first of a regular series exploring life behind the microphone, Stirrer editor Adrian Goldberg – host of "Britain’s biggest phone-in" on Talksport Radio – offers an exclsuive analysis of the week’s most popular phone-in subjects.

No doubt about it – this week’s biggest story, judged by volume of callers, was Home Secretary Jacqui Smith’s decision to ban Dutch politician Geert Wilders from Britain.

Listeners to my Talksport show were the first in Britain to have a chance to discuss it, too – mainly thanks to a phone call from London UKIP MEP Gerard Batten.

He rang just before we went on air to tip us off that Wilders, whose film “Fitna” claims to expose the truth behind Islam, had been warned to stay away.

Batten admitted that he’d already tried to interest other radio outlets in it, including Radio 4's “Today” programme, but they hadn’t bitten. More fool them. On a slow Tuesday night, when we were casting around for a lead topic, this was gift.

It was a story that contained all the ingredients of a great phone-in subject – free speech, religious controversy, and – best of all for me – it was fresh.

Novelty, I should point out, isn’t always as attractive as it might seem when your're considering a talking point; sometimes you get more calls on a subject that’s been around for a few days, because listeners have had a chance to read up on it and form an opinion.

All the same, given the choice, I’d go with breaking news – your challenge as a presenter is greater in that you have explain a subject to listeners who aren’t familiar with it, but the rewards are greater in that everyone engaged in the debate is totally fresh to it.

In the event, the subject sustained us for the best part of three hours on Wednesday morning, and we even got a second bite in the last two hours of the show on Friday after Wilders had been refused entry into the country.

For the record, I think that Wilders should have been allowed in.

He’s an elected politician with a legitimate if unpalatable point of view, and the government seems to me to have caved in to the threat of disorder from aggrieved Muslims.

“Fitna” certainly offers a hugely slanted version of their religion, but you’ll hear a rough-hewn version of Wilders' views in bars and bus stops up and down the country.

All the more reason that it should be heard in the mainstream - and then challenged.

When I made this point on Friday morning, one caller – a moderate Muslilm called Mohammed - took issue with me.

As a Londoner, he said he was supportive of our democratic traditions and had been taught (in accordance with the Koran) to live a “British way of life” as well as to practise his faith.

All the same, he felt Wilders had gone beyond the bounds of acceptable behaviour, by seeking to cause gratuitous offence.

For me – and this is a key philosophical difference – recognising that offence will sometimes be felt is the cornerstone of free speech. We can not have a "cotton wool country" where folk are afraid to express themelsves in case someone, somewhere doesn't like it. That way tyranny lies.

This is not to excuse blatant hate-mongering, mind. But although Wilder is clearly a hypocrite (demanding free speech himself, while seeking to restrict it for Muslims, whose holy book he would remove from the shelves) he is more than a crude racist.

So let us hear his views – and expose them for what they are.

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