The BBC on the BNP

Radio 1's Newsbeat interview is shameful

Regular readers of this blog will know that I tend to harp on about the self-serving, right-wing "myth" of the BBC's supposed "liberal left bias".

For those who remain unconvinced, let me point you towards Radio 1 Newsbeat's "interview" with two "young BNP members", on the BBC website. It is so staggeringly soft, woefully weak and uncritically unchallenging that I feel sick to my stomach. Here, in full, is the absurd attempt at rigorous and impartial journalism on the BBC (I mean, Radio 1, what is the point of it?):

 

Do you think it's OK for people who aren't white in this country to call themselves British?

Joey: Civic-ly British they are. You cannot say they are ethnically British. It's denying our heritage. It's taking that away from us.

At what point do they become ethnically British? How long do they have to be here?

Joey: Well I think it would be an awfully long time before someone would become ethnically British.

So when you see someone like Ashley Cole play for England, are you happy to watch him?

Joey: If he wants to come to this country and he wants to live by our laws, pay into society, that's fine.

But if he wanted to call himself British that would be a problem?

Joey: He cannot say that he's ethnically British.

Why is the idea of races mixing such a bad thing?

Joey: If everybody integrated it would take away everybody's identity.

Mark: I would be upset if there were no more giant pandas, I'd be upset if there were no more lions, if there were no more tigers, so equally I'd be upset if white people weren't here any more.

But we're the same species which makes it a bit different, doesn't it?

Mark: 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.

Can you understand that some people are happy to mix?

Mark: No, I think people have been brainwashed. I think the media, the government, have forced it down people's throats and they've indoctrinated people.

You don't think people are bright enough to decide themselves?

Mark: I think when people are bombarded 24 hours a day to force multiculturalism upon them, people are going to succumb to that. We shouldn't have to bend our ways to people who've been here five minutes.

You're talking like people here are on holiday. They've lived here, some of them, for a generation, some of them for longer. Doesn't that count?

Mark: Are you trying to compare somebody, or a group of people who've lived here for maybe 30 years, to people who've lived here for 40,000 years? There's a vast, vast difference in time scale there, my dear.

My point isn't the difference in times between one group of people and another, it's saying they're not visitors, they are not holidaymakers, they are people living here.

Mark: If I went to live and work in another country, then I would still adhere by their culture and they should adhere by ours.

Is anyone else as shocked as I am by the soft, naive, piss-poor questioning? Why the pleading tone from reporter Debbie Randle? Where in the interview are these two BNP "kids" properly challenged - on the criminal convictions and dubious backgrounds of leading BNP figures; the party's nakedly racist, Islamophobic and anti-Semitic discourse; the BNP's policies on (voluntary) repatriation and mixed-marriage bans, etc? Why is the piece headline "Young BNP members explain their beliefs", as if they are innocent members of, say, Amnesty International or on an Alpha course, rather than of a party whose members are banned from becoming police officers or prison officers?

In May, the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) published "race reporting guidelines" for the media, which included this particular point:

When interviewing representatives of racist organisations or reporting meetings or statements or claims, journalists should carefully check all reports for accuracy and seek rebutting or opposing comments. The antisocial nature of such views should be exposed.

Does anyone think reporter Debbie Randle stuck to those (voluntary) guidelines, or even to basic common sense (i.e. if you're interviewing young members of a racist party, those members' views should be challenged and their racism exposed)? According to her profile on the BBC website, she is a "Senior Broadcast Journalist" and someone desperate to interview Prince William, who once wanted to be a singer, cites Jon Snow as her favourite "reporter" because "he's so cool" and had a first job working in a bingo club. Judging by this abysmal interview, and the pass she gives the odious BNP and its "young" members, she should probably head back to that bingo club while her Radio 1 bosses hang their heads in shame for commissioning this awful feature.

The normalisation of the BNP in our political and media discourse continues apace - aided and abetted, as usual, by our public-service broadcaster. It's disgusting and depressing.

 

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

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Labour’s best general election bet is Keir Starmer

The shadow secretary for Brexit has the heart of a Remainer - but head of a pragmatic politician in Brexit Britain. 

In a different election, the shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer might have been written off as too quiet a man. Instead - as he set out his plans to scrap the Brexit white paper and offer EU citizens reassurance on “Day One” in the grand hall of the Institute of Civil Engineers - the audience burst into spontaneous applause. 

For voters now torn between their loyalty to Labour and Remain, Starmer is a reassuring figure. Although he says he respects the Brexit vote, the former director of public prosecutions is instinctively in favour of collaborating with Europe. He even wedges phrases like “regulatory alignment” into his speeches. When a journalist asked about the practicality of giving EU citizens right to remain before UK citizens abroad have received similar promises, he retorted: “The way you just described it is to use people as bargaining chips… We would not do that.”

He is also clear about the need for Parliament to vote on a Brexit deal in the autumn of 2018, for a transitional agreement to replace the cliff edge, and for membership of the single market and customs union to be back on the table. When pressed on the option of a second referendum, he said: “The whole point of trying to involve Parliament in the process is that when we get to the final vote, Parliament has had its say.” His main argument against a second referendum idea is that it doesn’t compare like with like, if a transitional deal is already in place. For Remainers, that doesn't sound like a blanket veto of #EUref2. 

Could Leave voters in the provinces warm to the London MP for Holborn and St Pancras? The answer seems to be no – The Daily Express, voice of the blue passport brigade, branded his speech “a plot”. But Starmer is at least respectful of the Brexit vote, as it stands. His speech was introduced by Jenny Chapman, MP for Darlington, who berated Westminster for their attitude to Leave voters, and declared: “I would not be standing here if the Labour Party were in anyway attempting to block Brexit.” Yes, Labour supporters who voted Leave may prefer a Brexiteer like Kate Hoey to Starmer,  but he's in the shadow Cabinet and she's on a boat with Nigel Farage. 

Then there’s the fact Starmer has done his homework. His argument is coherent. His speech was peppered with references to “businesses I spoke to”. He has travelled around the country. He accepts that Brexit means changing freedom of movement rules. Unlike Clive Lewis, often talked about as another leadership contender, he did not resign but voted for the Article 50 Bill. He is one of the rare shadow cabinet members before June 2016 who rejoined the front bench. This also matters as far as Labour members are concerned – a March poll found they disapproved of the way Labour has handled Brexit, but remain loyal to Jeremy Corbyn. 

Finally, for those voters who, like Brenda, reacted to news of a general election by complaining "Not ANOTHER one", Starmer has some of the same appeal as Theresa May - he seems competent and grown-up. While EU regulation may be intensely fascinating to Brexiteers and Brussels correspondents, I suspect that by 2019 most of the British public's overwhelming reaction to Brexit will be boredom. Starmer's willingness to step up to the job matters. 

Starmer may not have the grassroots touch of the Labour leader, nor the charisma of backbench dissidents like Chuka Umunna, but the party should make him the de facto face of the campaign.  In the hysterics of a Brexit election, a quiet man may be just what Labour needs.

What did Keir Starmer say? The key points of his speech

  • An immediate guarantee that all EU nationals currently living in the UK will see no change in their legal status as a result of Brexit, while seeking reciprocal measures for UK citizens in the EU. 
  • Replacing the Tories’ Great Repeal Bill with an EU Rights and Protections Bill which fully protects consumer, worker and environmental rights.
  • A replacement White Paper with a strong emphasis on retaining the benefits of the single market and the customs union. 
  • The devolution of any new powers that are transferred back from Brussels should go straight to the relevant devolved body, whether regional government in England or the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
  • Parliament should be fully involved in the Brexit deal, and MPs should be able to vote on the deal in autumn 2018.
  • A commitment to seek to negotiate strong transitional arrangements when leaving the EU and to ensure there is no cliff-edge for the UK economy. 
  • An acceptance that freedom of movement will end with leaving the EU, but a commitment to prioritise jobs and economy in the negotiations.

Julia Rampen is the digital news editor of the New Statesman (previously editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog). She has also been deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines. 

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