The election of two British National Party (BNP) candidates as Members of the European Parliament has thrown up a number of dilemmas for those working in the media.
The resounding question concerns reporting. Should it be treated as any other party, made subject to scrutiny and thereby exposed for the racist body it is? Or should it in the spirit of Margaret Thatcher’s broadcasting ban of the 1980s and 90s on Sinn Fein be totally censored out and denied the oxygen of publicity?
The coverage of the BNP in the run up to the European Elections gave the party plenty of opportunity to put its views over. It had a party political broadcast going out on prime time television. This broadcast was put together carefully, emphasising the BNP as standing for law and order in communities. There was no mention of the racist policies that demand the repatriation of ethnic minorities.
Many papers and broadcast outlets did exposes of the BNP and its leader Nick Griffin. There was also concern voiced that the party’s vote would increase due to the disgust among the public at the expenses scandal at Westminster.
There is though a very real danger of the BNP gaining more and more votes as a result of getting media coverage. The vote this time was up to 943,000.
The group Unite Against Fascism has stated that it will confront the BNP right across the country in order to expose its racist policies. The most reported of these efforts so far came at a BNP press conference at Westminster, following its victory, which had to be abandoned due to eggs being thrown at Griffin. How successful this approach is has to be open to question.
The concern is that the publicity allows the BNP to portray itself as the victim, the voice crying in the wilderness, the truth teller. This will invigorate those that voted for it and inspire others to follow suit.
The other approach would be to effectively censor out the BNP, denying them the oxygen of publicity in the way that Margaret Thatcher claimed she was doing with the broadcasting ban. So for the BNP, this would mean not covering their various activities. It could mean having the likes of Griffin dubbed. The problem is that this approach seems likely to again add to the allure of the organisation and possibly strengthen the resolve of those who support it.
The key really is to address the background factors that are feeding into support for the BNP. The constant anti-immigration coverage of many right wing newspapers and the BBC helps create a fertile ground for the BNP to exploit. These outlets give a disproportionate weight to the views of the wholly unrepresentative Migration Watch, often to the exclusion of any other view. Nor has the pandering to the BNP agenda by the Labour Party helped matters. Look at how the BNP have used Gordon Brown’s mantra of 'British jobs for British workers' to their own advantage. So it is addressing the factors that fuel the BNP’s growth that need to be targeted. The oxygen of publicity has no doubt helped the BNP grow but now to an extent the cat is out of the bag. There is a discontented electorate, many of whom believe - due to much of the warped coverage of papers like the Daily Express and Daily Mail - that their very ways of life are under threat due to immigration. This in turn provides the soil in which views sympathetic to the BNP continue to grow. The BNP needs to be exposed via robust reporting and interviewing but the background factors fuelling their growth like the unfavourable immigration coverage in the media also need to be addressed.