BBC Scotland chief defends Steve Bannon invitation

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image captionSteve Bannon is due to speak at a conference in Edinburgh next week

The head of BBC Scotland has defended the decision to invite Donald Trump's former advisor Steve Bannon to speak at a conference in Edinburgh next week.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has pulled out of the News Xchange event, which is being co-hosted by the BBC, over Mr Bannon's "far-right views".

BBC Scotland director Donalda MacKinnon told MSPs that she respected Ms Sturgeon's decision.

But she denied that the BBC was offering a platform to extreme views.

Mr Bannon was one of President Trump's closest aides until he quit the White House in August of last year, since when he has continued to vocally support right-wing political causes around the world, including championing a Europe-wide populist "supergroup".

In September, he was disinvited from the New Yorker Festival after a backlash - but is still due to take part in the News Xchange event moderated by the BBC's Sarah Smith in Edinburgh on 14 November.

Ms Sturgeon, who had been due to appear at the event the previous evening, said last month that she was pulling out as she "will not be part of any process that risks legitimising or normalising far right, racist views".

She added: "I regret that the BBC has put me and others in this position."

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The issue was raised by Scottish Green MSP Ross Greer as Ms MacKinnon and other senior BBC figures appeared before the Scottish Parliament's culture committee on Thursday morning.

Mr Greer described Mr Bannon as a white nationalist who was associated with Holocaust deniers, and asked at what point someone is "simply beyond the pale" for broadcasters such as the BBC, and warned that the corporation was "being played".

He also said Mr Bannon's invitation was part of the "long history of platforming those with extreme right wing views under the guise of challenging them for those views, but which has resulted in the absolute opposite".

image captionDonalda MacKinnon was giving evidence to Holyrood's culture committee on the BBC's annual reports and acounts

Ms MacKinnon responded by stressing Mr Bannon had been invited by a European Broadcasting Union (EBU) committee - which is organising the News Xchange event - rather than by the BBC, which is a member of the EBU.

She added: "It is really important in a conference that is absolutely about journalism that we go to the heart of our journalism and our journalistic practice, which is about holding people to account, which is about interrogating, which is about scrutiny.

"It was felt by the committee who invited Steve Bannon that it was right to do just that, and that is why he will be there".

Ms MacKinnon said she recognised the concern over his appearance, but insisted it was not the BBC's intention to offer platforms to people who have particularly extreme views.

She said: "It about holding them to account, interrogating, scrutinising and explaining to others what they are about."

SNP MSP Kenneth Gibson said the BBC's controversial decision to interview then-BNP leader Nick Griffin on Question Time in 2009 had "led to the effective destruction" of the party by "exposing his ludicrous views to the rest of the United Kingdom."