Birmingham youngsters join BBC ‘Free Speech’ show
Youngsters from across the city joined a diverse audience in a televised debate yesterday, as it was broadcast live from the Birmingham Central Mosque in Highgate.
The 16-34 year-olds were participating in Free Speech – BBC Three’s fortnightly debate and discussion show hosted by Rick Edwards and Tina Daheley – where topics covered included youth disengagement, youth unemployment, whether there should be a referendum on the EU; and the forthcoming closure of the BBC Three channel itself.
Panellists on the show included Huffington Post UK political editor Mehdi Hasan, comedian and The Revolution Will Be Televised star Heydon Prowse, Liberal Democrat peer Susan Kramer, transgender Vice journalist Paris Lees and former Conservative election candidate-turned-businesswoman Shazia Awan.
The programme was broadcast live from a pop-up studio set up on the grounds of the city’s Central Mosque, with producers actively encouraging audience participants to get ‘stuck in‘ to the free and open debate; and to challenge “the minister or someone from that cosy bubble” by demanding to have their say.
However, a controversial decision by producers not to hold a planned debate on ‘Muslims and homosexuality‘ caused a stir on social media and in national press, after it was only announced live during the show by presenter Rick Edwards. Programme makers explained the decision was taken at the request of mosque trustees, and was respected out of sensitivity for the place of worship. This has neither been confirmed or denied by the mosque. Some participants felt this should have been disclosed prior to the show airing.
We spoke to some of the individuals about why they participated in the show and what they made of the first episode of the third series:
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CHARLIE MOLONEY, BIRMINGHAM UNIVERSITY STUDENT
“I applied to be part of the Free Speech audience because it seemed like a good chance to be on TV. Being on TV is a great way to get your opinions heard by a large number of people, in fact it is unique in that you don’t need to hold any position for people to listen to you.
I also hoped that there would be a lively debate and maybe the chance to see some interesting panellists. I felt that the event went quite well. Ideally, it would have been better to have had more distinctive question subjects. I didn’t think that the debate about the EU was very interesting or important. I felt that the debate about BBC Three was interesting, although I think that a lot of the audience members gave the same answers, and only a few of the panellists really dominated the discussion.
Also it’s a real shame that we couldn’t discuss the LGBT issue. I understand that we had to respect the wishes of our hosts at the mosque, but I still think that that was a far more interesting topic than the political discussions we had.”
SHABRAZ AHMED, COMMUNITY ACTIVIST
“I applied to be a part of the Free Speech audience as it’s always been one of my favourite programmes on TV, and when I heard it was coming to Birmingham, I couldn’t miss the opportunity!
The overall experience was amazing. I was delighted that, as a young British Muslim, the show was filmed in Birmingham Central Mosque.
The hospitality provided by the Mosque was incredible, and they went to great lengths to take care of their audience.
The questions that were posed were relevant, however, I was disappointed that the audience questions on Moazzam Begg, foodbanks and Syria were not addressed. As for the final show, I was impressed but I believe it would have been better had equal time been devoted to all questions.”
SUNJAY KOHLI, ASTON UNIVERSITY STUDENT
“I wanted to be part of the live audience and contribute to the discussions surrounding young people, simply because I am a young person myself, and as a generation we have a responsibility to ruffle a few feathers and say ‘no’.
Just imagine a board room full of top executives of some large company trying to sell something to people between 16-24, they won’t ever meet their targets unless they have the input from a young person telling them what they want. What good is it, what effects will it have on our generation if you have a panel full of older more experienced professionals talking about what they think are the issues facing us. We need to take a step forward before they take a step backwards.
Despite the few tweets that were slightly edited and then shared, and despite the over-simplification of submitted questions which in turn may have jeopardised the true essence and message behind it, the show it self did seem quite organic in the sense that people could say what they wanted to say as soon as it came to mind. Aside from the buzz that comes with being on live TV, I found the true experience was in the controversial topics being debated and the questions being thrown at panellists and young people. Having the opportunity to appear on a show like this was undoubtedly a positive experience, it does give young people a platform, however, its vital that we recognise we can also build our own platforms.”
HAIDER ALI, ACTOR
“I didn’t actually apply to be on the show. I was going to pray at the mosque and noticed the BBC Three team setting up. After chatting to them, they offered me the opportunity to join the audience.
I realised others had travelled from London and other cities and thought it would be a great way to join in and have my say.
The topics discussed were okay but I felt it was just a normal debate and there was nothing special that really stood out for me.”