Newsbeat BNP grabBBC journalism often excels its commercial rivals. For detail, depth and balance, it’s easily my preferred source on many stories. Within a year, we’re very likely to have a Conservative government which has already declared itself hostile to the BBC; as Johann Hari points out, it’s probably more important than ever that the BBC’s supporters proclaim its strengths as often as they can.

It’s also more important than ever for the BBC to display those strengths. But this Newsbeat interview with two BNP activists shows that the corporation is as capable of slack, sloppy, damaging journalism as any other organisation. Roy Greenslade goes over the major flaws in his media column for the Guardian, but it comes down to a willingness to accept and republish BNP beliefs on their own terms, rather than do the dirty work of challenging them.

When the two activists compare white British people with endangered species such as the giant panda, interviewer Debbie Randle timorously suggests, “But we’re the same species which makes it a bit different, doesn’t it?” The BNP supporters reply with:

You could say that but if all of a sudden there weren’t any sparrows and there were only crows, I’d still be sad there weren’t any sparrows.

This not only fails to address Randle’s wholly accurate comment about species, it also repeats the fallacy by using two different species to represent white people in opposition to people of all other races (who are the crows here, presumably because BNP voters think Dumbo is a good treatment of racial politics). Randle doesn’t ask what would happen if the crows and the sparrows were able to mate and breed, or how the crows are going to kill the pandas. The reiterated statement is allowed to pass, and then published unchallenged on the BBC website.

According to the link, this article was originally titled “Young BNP members explain beliefs”. It now appears as “BNP members challenged on beliefs” – suggesting that someone in the editorial process realised that inviting the BNP to “explain” their racism really wasn’t going to pass as a probing piece of journalism.

debbie randle status

However, the journalist responsible seems to consider her work acceptable – on the left is a screengrab of a Twitter update, in which she suggests that it’s unfair to judge the interview on the basis of the edited version on the website.

And her editor, Rod McKenzie, is just as clueless: in a post on The Editors (the internal watchdog of BBC news), he argues that the fact that Newsbeat received texts and emails supportive of the BNP shows he was right to publicise their views in this way.

This shrugging off of journalistic responsibility sits badly with my inclination to admire and cherish BBC news. Richard Sambrook, director of BBC Global News, takes the name of his personal blog from the CP Scott dictum, “comment is free, but facts are sacred.” Randle and McKenzie have allowed the BNP’s comment to suffocate facts here: white people aren’t endangered, white and non-white are not different species, Ashley Cole was born in the UK, and so endlessly on.

The Newsbeat interview might be helpful as evidence that the BBC isn’t a fulminating hive of left-wingery; as evidence of the corporation’s newsgathering and reporting prowess, it’s devastatingly poor. Complain to the BBC at this link.

Related: Pickled Politics, “The BBC continues pandering to the BNP”

Text © Sarah Ditum, 2009. Post title by Louise Johnson.


  1. The Newsbeat interview might be helpful as evidence that the BBC isn’t a fulminating hive of left-wingery; as evidence of the corporation’s newsgathering and reporting prowess, it’s devastating. Complain to the BBC at this link.

    I don’t think anyone, besides the odd Gramsci-ite Tory, really thinks the BBC is left-wing. After that, I don’t follow. How does that interview demonstrate the BBC’s ‘newsgathering and reporting prowess’? You’ve claimed that it’s a particularly weak piece of journalism. I don’t agree, but it’s certainly not newsgathering, so I don’t see how it can demonstrate prowess of same. (I’ve just had second thoughts on that sentence; suddenly I don’t know what newsgathering is. I’ve assumed that it means getting intelligence on events, but it could extend to simple interviewing, which this is unarguably a case of.) What are you asking readers to complain about? The prowess of the BBC? That it’s not left-wing enough?

    I certain buy the argument that the interview was an example of giving enough rope. The BNP are a legal party; I think they’re disingenuous about the violence of their supporters, but they are allowed to put up candidates. As such, the BBC should be obliged to interview them. All the arguments they give are risible. What’s worse, is that they’re almost certainly BNP dogma and not the struggling articulations of a couple of teenagers. They were reciting the party line just as Gordon Brown was when he claimed that the government were the insurgents now. The questions were soft, but they weren’t friendly. The BNP have no policies besides the racial segregation thing; if you believe much of the electorate will be foolish enough to vote for them, you really have to question universal suffrage, because it seems that you’re calling for a sort of state censorship. They don’t represent dangerous ungoodthink, they’re just idiots.

    BTW, what would you say to Nick Griffin being mauled by Paxman – would that be OK?

    I don’t like the BNP, and if it ever came to that, I’d always vote tactically against them. But some people believe in their policies. And we’re a free country and we should allow them their beliefs and expression.

  2. Devastating because it’s a terrible piece of journalism. I don’t think there’s anything politically biassed about making sure that published work reflects the facts – it’s simply the journalist and editor’s job to ensure that false statements like the one about species and the one about Ashley Cole don’t receive the appearance of truth. They didn’t do that job here, and it’s devastating to my esteem for BBC news, which I generally consider imperfect but effective. (I’ve edited the last-but-one sentence to read “devastatingly bad.” For clarity like.)

  3. As much as I hate to be facetious (which is to say that I don’t hate it at all); the BNP may not be a legal party at all. Their policy of disallowing non-whites to become members of the party contravines the Race Relations Act. It’s originally mentioned here, and an update here referring to county court proceedings being filed by the EHRC.

    It’s worth noting the unintentional hilarity of the last paragraph in the article:

    There are also concerns among officials that elected BNP representatives may not intend to provide services on an equal level to all constituents regardless of their race or colour.

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