The Voice denied accreditation for the Olympic stadium

Britain's oldest and biggest black newspaper has been refused access to report from the Olympic stadium.

Britain’s oldest and biggest black newspaper, The Voice, has been refused media accreditation for the Olympic stadium, meaning that it won’t be able to cover the most high profile track and field events in person.

The paper’s editor and managing director, George Ruddock, called the decision “a slap in the face by the British Olympic Association”. He continued: "We are truly disappointed that The Voice, which has covered the glorious achievements of British, African and Caribbean athletes for many years, will not be inside the Olympic stadium to record more expected glory."

The rejection the paper received read as follows:

The extraordinary interest and demand from UK media saw the British Olympic Association (BOA) receive more than 3,000 requests for the approximately 400 accreditations available.

After careful consideration by the Media Accreditation Committee, we regret to inform you that your application for accreditation for the London 2012 Olympic Games has been unsuccessful.

Should we be in the fortunate position to receive additional accreditations from the International Olympic Committee (IOC) as the Games near or if any granted accreditations are returned, we will reallocate them to applicants on our waiting list. You will automatically be put on this list.

The Voice’s readers have already reacted with outrage. The activist Zita Holbourne has set up a petition calling on the BOA to reconsider its decision, which has so far attracted 750 signatures. Labour MP David Lammy, Jamaica's high commissioner Aloun Assamba and Simon Woolley, chair of Operation Black Vote, have also called for the decision to be reversed.

The problem, Holbourne feels, is that bigger, more general publications, have been prioritised, with smaller and more specialist publications like The Voice left out. But as the paper’s sports editor Rodney Hinds has said, a commitment to diversity has underpinned all stages of London’s Olympics so far, so “if we can't have one reporter reporting on what's happening from inside the stadium something is very wrong”.

There’s no indication at this stage that there’s been a deliberate attempt to exclude the paper explicitly because of the nature of its readership. But having a publication like The Voice kept outside the stadium when members of Team GB come from the very communities it represents is unacceptable. As Hinds says, something is very wrong if the media accreditation process is so unbalanced as to refuse access to a sports journalist from a well-known and respected paper, albeit a specialist one, that caters to a readership that many other outlets don’t reach.

Three Voice journalists have received accreditation for the Olympic football competition, but the paper is still waiting to hear from the BOA about the details of the criteria by which media outlets were assessed for access to the stadium.

 

The Olympic stadium in East London. Photograph: Getty Images

Caroline Crampton is assistant editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

The Prevent strategy needs a rethink, not a rebrand

A bad policy by any other name is still a bad policy.

Yesterday the Home Affairs Select Committee published its report on radicalization in the UK. While the focus of the coverage has been on its claim that social media companies like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are “consciously failing” to combat the promotion of terrorism and extremism, it also reported on Prevent. The report rightly engages with criticism of Prevent, acknowledging how it has affected the Muslim community and calling for it to become more transparent:

“The concerns about Prevent amongst the communities most affected by it must be addressed. Otherwise it will continue to be viewed with suspicion by many, and by some as “toxic”… The government must be more transparent about what it is doing on the Prevent strategy, including by publicising its engagement activities, and providing updates on outcomes, through an easily accessible online portal.”

While this acknowledgement is good news, it is hard to see how real change will occur. As I have written previously, as Prevent has become more entrenched in British society, it has also become more secretive. For example, in August 2013, I lodged FOI requests to designated Prevent priority areas, asking for the most up-to-date Prevent funding information, including what projects received funding and details of any project engaging specifically with far-right extremism. I lodged almost identical requests between 2008 and 2009, all of which were successful. All but one of the 2013 requests were denied.

This denial is significant. Before the 2011 review, the Prevent strategy distributed money to help local authorities fight violent extremism and in doing so identified priority areas based solely on demographics. Any local authority with a Muslim population of at least five per cent was automatically given Prevent funding. The 2011 review pledged to end this. It further promised to expand Prevent to include far-right extremism and stop its use in community cohesion projects. Through these FOI requests I was trying to find out whether or not the 2011 pledges had been met. But with the blanket denial of information, I was left in the dark.

It is telling that the report’s concerns with Prevent are not new and have in fact been highlighted in several reports by the same Home Affairs Select Committee, as well as numerous reports by NGOs. But nothing has changed. In fact, the only change proposed by the report is to give Prevent a new name: Engage. But the problem was never the name. Prevent relies on the premise that terrorism and extremism are inherently connected with Islam, and until this is changed, it will continue to be at best counter-productive, and at worst, deeply discriminatory.

In his evidence to the committee, David Anderson, the independent ombudsman of terrorism legislation, has called for an independent review of the Prevent strategy. This would be a start. However, more is required. What is needed is a radical new approach to counter-terrorism and counter-extremism, one that targets all forms of extremism and that does not stigmatise or stereotype those affected.

Such an approach has been pioneered in the Danish town of Aarhus. Faced with increased numbers of youngsters leaving Aarhus for Syria, police officers made it clear that those who had travelled to Syria were welcome to come home, where they would receive help with going back to school, finding a place to live and whatever else was necessary for them to find their way back to Danish society.  Known as the ‘Aarhus model’, this approach focuses on inclusion, mentorship and non-criminalisation. It is the opposite of Prevent, which has from its very start framed British Muslims as a particularly deviant suspect community.

We need to change the narrative of counter-terrorism in the UK, but a narrative is not changed by a new title. Just as a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, a bad policy by any other name is still a bad policy. While the Home Affairs Select Committee concern about Prevent is welcomed, real action is needed. This will involve actually engaging with the Muslim community, listening to their concerns and not dismissing them as misunderstandings. It will require serious investigation of the damages caused by new Prevent statutory duty, something which the report does acknowledge as a concern.  Finally, real action on Prevent in particular, but extremism in general, will require developing a wide-ranging counter-extremism strategy that directly engages with far-right extremism. This has been notably absent from today’s report, even though far-right extremism is on the rise. After all, far-right extremists make up half of all counter-radicalization referrals in Yorkshire, and 30 per cent of the caseload in the east Midlands.

It will also require changing the way we think about those who are radicalized. The Aarhus model proves that such a change is possible. Radicalization is indeed a real problem, one imagines it will be even more so considering the country’s flagship counter-radicalization strategy remains problematic and ineffective. In the end, Prevent may be renamed a thousand times, but unless real effort is put in actually changing the strategy, it will remain toxic. 

Dr Maria Norris works at London School of Economics and Political Science. She tweets as @MariaWNorris.