The language of hate

Express columnist Jimmy Young praised the BBC’s decision to invite Nick Griffin onto Question Time:

The BNP is not going to quietly fold its tents and disappear, so surely it is better to allow it to subject its policies to open debate and questioning after which, as the BBC rightly says: “Our audiences, and the electorate, will make up their own minds about the different policies offered by elected politicians.”

The Express, “Jimmy Young: Why BBC’s decision to include BNP will be judged as wise”

Funnily enough, Young managed to write the whole of that column without slipping in a reference to how despicable he considers the BNP to be – leaving readers to draw the conclusion that the BBC will appear “courageous and wise” not because it has contributed to the undermining of far-right politics, but because it has given a platform to a rising moment.

The latter explanation requires the reader to accept that a national newspaper is willing to espouse racist extremism, which seems implausible unless you’re actually looking at a copy of the Express, where today’s headline (“KEEP OUT, BRITAIN IS FULL UP”) is a BNP slogan. Tabloid news feeds public appetite for racist politics, and the language of racist politics feeds back into the news.

Earlier today, I was reading Sarah Hartley on applying the “socially useless” test to journalism, but a front page like the Express’ is not anodyne uselessness. It’s pure harm, driving hatred and dehumanisation. And its existence undermines any arguments that newspapers may make for their own indispensability.

**Edit** This post wasn’t really supposed to be about the QT issue, but as the comments have swarmed on that point, I might as well quote Chris Dillow on why Question Time isn’t going to provide the crushing scrutiny some of the commenters below seem to be hoping for:

But this runs into Paul Sagar’s objection – that QT is not a platform for debate but merely a zoo in which soundbites are vomited into an audience who clap like hyperactive seals. There’s a danger that Nick Griffin could actually emerge well from such a show. His imbecile beliefs lend themselves better to cheap slogans than do arguments in favour of immigration – especially as viewers have been primed by the trash media to give credence to such beliefs, and as his opponents are likely to be discredited ministers who lack the courage to make the case for immigration. Indeed, as Bart Cammaerts notes, Belgian experience suggests the far right does gain votes as it gets media coverage.

Stumbling and Mumbling, “The BNP and our sick democracy”

Text © Sarah Ditum, 2009

18 thoughts on “The language of hate

  1. What a nob. Is there any point in engaging people like the BNP on shows like Question Time? You can’t always debate with the likes of the BNP because, to quote someone I interviewed recently: “propaganda doesn’t deal with evidence, it deals with its own internal self-referential truth. It isn’t amenable to evidence, it’s only amenable to more bullshit.” And of course, most of the propaganda comes from the tabs.

    The BNP’s disguised motives and missions have been exposed so many times – why are they still a legitimate party?

  2. it strikes me that the real issue – often deflected by assessments of how much coverage the BNP is receiving – is surely to get to the heart of why these parties find the support they do (despite their nasty tendencies). A fire will suck up oxygen, so knock out the source of oxygen and n fire.

  3. Just as a postscript: Shane is hitting towards the point I’m getting at: even debating with someone who thinks repeating points constitutes an argument is a waste of time. But actually doing a documentary on why people swallow this shit …. but that won’t happen.

  4. Have a listen to last night’s File On 4, Steve. It’s got some good analysis of the way that public funding intended to curb Islamic extremism helped to inflame racist resentments. But more than that, coverage like the Express’ is why the BNP get the support they do (<7% in a Euro election, so still not that much). Newspapers don't just report attitudes, they inform them – and a "we're full" headline informs racist attitudes.

  5. Sarah,

    Sure, will do. But I’m thinking primarily of a personal experience in which a shop assistant (who I suspect is little informed by headlines but more by gut reaction to “foreign”) started complaining about all the Polish people “living round here”. She seemed pretty shocked at even the idea of the UK government’s actions having more to do with our situation than the foreigners. So there is more to it than headlines, though clearly the type you mention don’t help. I believe a healthy focus would be on doing more at a fundamental level to educate. After all, I was under the impression that the Norman invaders were originally foreign ….

  6. Shane,

    The BNP should 100% have this platform on the BBC. Not so that it can consist of ‘Hahaha! You’re all racist!’ Comments but rather so that every single one of their backwards, idiotic, unworkable and downright insulting wastes of paper which they would term a policy…


  7. This is a tricky issue for me. On the one hand, I don’t like racism or fascism and don’t want to see it grow in any country, let alone the one my father (and countless other people) have fought to keep safe from it.

    On the other hand, that freedom from fascism means we have the power of free-speech, meaning (supposedly) that one person can express their views (no matter how reprehensible) without fear of reprisals from the powers-that-be. It’s then up to the public at large to decide if they agree or disagree with the viewpoint, and support/undermine that viewpoint by using *their* free speech powers to spread their feelings on the matter.

    With that in mind, I support the BBC for having the BNP on, in the same way I think their decision to mask Gerry Adam’s voice in 80s was a terrible decision. Not because I support Sinn fein or the IRA, but Adams is entitled to free-speech no matter what he is alledged to have been involved in. Just like you and I.

    (Free) Speaking personally, I think let the BNP on Question Time and watch them get torn apart by the rational politicians and members of the public. Maybe Griffin’s appearance *will* attract more viewers interested to hear his message, but they’ll also hear the other ‘messages’ and see how revilled and misguided the man really is.

  8. So regarding The Express’s comments, I guess I agree with them (never thought I’d say that) on the subject of him appearing on QT, but as to supporting him or the BNP, that’s not me I’m afraid.

  9. I agree with Steve that the real issue is why anyone is voting for the BNP. This is where efforts need to be directed. All the major political parties need to address this at grass roots level, when they canvass on doorsteps and when they put together their literature. What supposed need are the BNP fulfilling in voters?

    Also, I have a nagging problem with the idea of putting Griffin on QT. I can’t imagine that BNP voters will watch his stint on there and think ‘Oh dear, he didn’t answer that question very well, I think I may need to question all I believe about the BNP’, if he ends up looking like an idiot they will see it as a left-wing stitch-up by the media. I reckon the only way to get around making Griffin look like a martyr is for the other parties to bypass the BNP controversy carnival and to start engaging with those voting for him.

  10. Is this satire? It’s rubbish. No, racism shouldn’t be protected as free speech. It incites violence, so it should be handled with extreme caution. And not quoted approvingly on the front page of national newspapers.

  11. The BNP must be allowed on Question Time. It will simply give them a platform to inadvertently show how little they know.

    To do anything else is censorship and plays right into their hands.

    Give them enough rope and they’ll hang themselves.

  12. I think Sarah’s postscript makes the most valid point, here: the BNP and Nick Griffin in particular has spent a long time learning how to dodge the racist-Nazi bullet. As much as most rational people might wish for it, Griffin isn’t about to appear on QT foaming at the mouth, calling for the immediate mass extermination of “towelheads n’ imm’gants” and screaming “SIEG HEIL!” every time someone says his name.

    He’s going to appear with a reassuring smile on his face and an apparently limitless amount of patience for the hailstorm of criticism that people will attempt to level at him. He’ll effortlessly dodge allegations with well-though-out patter that’s as disarming as it is devoid of any content. All he then needs to do is use reasonable, considered and scripted arguments against any of his fellow panel members, and if even a handful of people come away from watching it and think to themselves, “Hmm, y’know what? He actually seems okay.” then the damage is done.

  13. I’m sure you’re right about Griffin being well-schooled in exploiting media coverage, but then so are the regular politicians, and that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be allowed to air their views.

    And if the BNP picks up followers, then so be it. It’s a democracy after all, and if the voters want a BNP MP or even (God forbid) a government, it’s up to us to raise our voices to change that state of affairs.

    It’s highly unpalatable, but you can’t have freedoms without it being freedoms for all. Anything less, ironically falls into fascism territory.

  14. I understand the logic behind what you’re saying, but it doesn’t deal with the fact that some of his warped views are supported by the likes of The Sun, Express et al. To use Sarah’s example of “We’re full” – Griffin can seize on that and use it as a source to back up his public stance (which is milder than his private one). Once people see that what he’s saying holds some credibility with sections of the media, it legitimises those views – even if what he’s saying is founded on utter shite. Because it is reported in the press, some people will take that as given rather than conducting their own research to get past the propaganda.

    The best way to deal with the BNP, in my opinion, is as Steve said above; uncover and expose through journalism, not debate.

  15. I completely agree with you in regard to freedoms for all, and my argument isn’t that Nick Griffin should be denied ‘legitmate’ airtime; only that I think people who are hoping for him to come off like a human portmanteau of Hitler and a blind-drunk John Prescott on a stag night have unrealistic expectations.

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