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25 March 2011

Has the Daily Star turned its back on the EDL?

The red top pledges to oppose “extremism and fanaticism no matter what quarter it comes from”.

By Dan Hodges

The Daily Star’s flirtation with extremist right-wing, if not right-wing, politics appears to be over. Last month Richard Desmond’s flagship red top raised concerns that it was preparing to formally endorse the English Defence League after publishing an editorial entitled “Don’t Dare Ignore The EDL” with the accompanying splash “English Defence League To Become A Political Party”.

Fortunately it now appears the Star editor, Dawn Neesom, described in her Wikipedia biography as a staunch West Ham fan and avid kick boxer, has experienced a conversion on the road to Luton, and will be adopting a more circumspect approach to the group, which has been bringing booze-fuelled chaos to Britain’s multi-ethnic communities.

A letter from the Daily Star publishers, Northern & Shell, to Nick Lowles, editor of the anti-extremist magazine Searchlight, pledges: “Our stand has always been and always will be that of strongly opposing extremism and fanaticism no matter what quarter it comes from, whether it be burning poppies or copies of the Koran.” It goes on, “We assure Searchlight that the Daily Star will continue to endeavour to be a fair and accurate newspaper serving a true United Kingdom and all its people.”

An editorial response from Lowles, who has been campaigning for the Star to distance itself from the EDL, expresses his belief that “the newspaper will not be backing the street gang or any other extremist organisation”. He adds: “We welcome this statement and what we understand to be a change in direction. We will remain vigilant to keep the newspaper to its word.”

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Despite a perception that the Daily Star was morphing into the house magazine of the far right, the truth is the Star stable has adopted a more ambiguous stance to both the EDL and the league’s floundering forerunners in the BNP. The Sunday edition of the paper has run a number of hard-hitting exposés of both organisations, and was highly critical of the Prime Minister’s recent Munich speech on multiculturalism. Under the headline “David Cameron Boards the EDL Bandwagon” the paper charged: “Bungling David Cameron was last night accused of ‘stoking the fires’ of race hate just hours before a thuggish far-right march.”

There have also been indications that Richard Desmond has himself been concerned about his daily paper’s courting of the EDL. The Guardian media commentator Roy Greenslade, who was heavily critical of the Star’s favourable editorial, quoted a spokesman for Desmond insisting the proprietor had no prior knowledge of the paper’s stance. The Independent also agreed to change its online headline “Has Richard Desmond decided to back the English Defence League?” to “Has the Daily Star decided to back the English Defence League?” following a request for a correction from Desmond.

The Star’s decision to break from its balaclava-clad suitors comes at a time when the paper has been facing internal as well as external scrutiny over its reporting of ethnic minorities, especially those in the Muslim community. The whistleblower/disgruntled former employee Richard Peppiatt claimed in a resignation letter to Daily Star management that Islamophobia had become a key weapon in the paper’s fight for circulation.

“Muslims are branded ‘beardies’ or ‘fanatics’, and black-on-black killings (‘Bob-slayings’, as I’ve cringingly heard them called in your newsroom) can be resigned to a handful of words, shoehorned beneath a garish advert,” Peppiatt wrote.

In response, the Daily Star issued a statement which claimed: “Regarding the allegations over the paper’s coverage of Islam, he [Peppiatt] was only ever involved in a very minor way with such articles, and never voiced either privately or officially any disquiet over the tone of the coverage. For the record, the Daily Star editorial policy does not hold any negativity towards Islam and the paper has never, and does not endorse, the EDL.”

Whatever the truth of the Peppiatt allegations, the withdrawal, or non-extension, of the Daily Star’s support will be a seen as a blow to the organisation at a time when it is struggling to manage internal tensions over its direction. Alan Lake, the EDL’s shadowy millionaire financier, is keen to channel his progeny towards the political mainstream, and has been attempting to build connections with the European and international right, including fringe elements of the US Tea Party movement.

In contrast, Tommy Robinson, the EDL’s self-styled “General”, is said to want to remain true to the movement’s “grass-roots” strategy of street-level demonstrations and confrontation, even though effective policing and community organisation are reducing the opportunities for disorder so beloved of many of its members.

The “tits, bums, QPR and roll your own fags” agenda pursued by the Daily Star’s inaugural editor, Derek Jameson, is not to everyone’s taste. But the capture of a national newspaper endorsement, from whatever source, would have been an important feather in the hoodies of the EDL. Dawn Neesom and Richard Desmond’s change of heart, however belated, is to be welcomed.

Say oooh, ah, Daily Star . . .

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