October 27, 2009
BNP on the BBC - this is what I think

This will be quite a serious blog - fair warning!

I’ve just caught up with the episode of Question Time from last week where Nick Griffin, leader of the British National Party, was on the panel - I know it’s taken me a while. You can still get it on iPlayer and bits of it are doubtless on YouTube. It’s interesting to watch it now, though, given the changing coverage of the story before, during and after its broadcast. The BBC was criticised for allowing Griffin airtime, then briefly celebrated for having him on as, the coverage said, it exposed him for the crackpot he is, before finally being slated again as polls indicated a surge in BNP membership.

I find myself very conflicted about this. Here’s why:

  1. I loathe everything about the BNP - everything they stand for I reject and find repulsive.
  2. I fervently, passionately believe in freedom of speech.
  3. Therefore, although I find the BNP disgusting, I would defend their right to say what they think.
  4. People are voting for the BNP, therefore they do have a mandate to represent the views of some people in this country; therefore, also, the BBC should have them on their programme as they do represent (ironically) a minority of people, and the BBC has a duty to represent minorities - hence Asian Network, 1Xtra, etc.

So, here is my problem - because of what I believe I find myself, at one and the same time, feeling sickened by hearing Nick Griffin spout his filthy, ill-informed and prejudiced views whilst simultaneously feeling obliged to defend his right not only to hold those views but to have them heard. Which is probably why I’m still twitching, an hour after watching Question Time back.

So, the aftermath. The BBC has been attacked for allowing Griffin on because it has caused a surge in interest in the BNP. The BBC, the criticism goes, has allowed the BNP “the oxygen of publicity”. I disagree; it is not the BBC’s fault that some people in this country subscribe to racist and hateful views. Whose fault is it? In the programme some blame was attributed to the Labour government’s immigration policy. This may or may not be true - I don’t know enough about the issue to comment. However, as a media teacher it is fascinating and frightening to watch the story unravel. And, though it pains me to say it, education must be to blame somewhere along the line.

Mr Griffin’s education was clearly lacking, as demonstrated in his annihilation by Bonnie Greer, clearly speaking from a more informed position than he was. And, more frighteningly, the education of those who support and vote for the BNP is also lacking. If there is one thing I believe in more than anything else, it is that the education system in this country should turn out people who are tolerant of one another, accepting of difference, and able to work together to achieve peaceful and constructive solutions to issues they may face. That there are people in this country and, I am told, in our school who are not tolerant demonstrates a failure of the education system.

So, I tolerate Nick Griffin. I do not like him, I loathe his views, but he has a right to hold them. The one thing I cannot help but think, however, is that if Nick Griffin had been educated properly, that he would think differently about the world.

In the mean time, I take comfort in the fact that, in at least some quarters, the response to this debate has been the typical British one: humour. Thank you, Cassetteboy: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_QAvkFS_cgk

October 19, 2009
Stephen Fry on Twitter, Trafigura and Moir

October 13, 2009
Freedom of Speech - free press challenged

MASSIVE uproar currently happening about an injunction taken out against The Guardian newspaper, preventing them from reporting on parliamentary questions relating to the Trafigura toxic waste dumping scandal. A summary:

The Guardian reported (on May 14th) that the Swiss Company Trafigura dumped toxic waste on the Ivory Coast, resulting in the sickness of many inhabitants of the area.

Then, yesterday, the following appeared in an article on the Guardian’s Website:

"Today’s published Commons order papers contain a question to be answered by a minister later this week. The Guardian is prevented from identifying the MP who has asked the question, what the question is, which minister might answer it, or where the question is to be found.

The Guardian is also forbidden from telling its readers why the paper is prevented – for the first time in memory – from reporting parliament. Legal obstacles, which cannot be identified, involve proceedings, which cannot be mentioned, on behalf of a client who must remain secret.”

All very cryptic…but the suggestion is that the dumping of toxic waste on the Ivory Coast is probably the subject of the question in parliament.

The Guardian’s editor-in-chief is today challenging the injunction which prevents a British newspaper from reporting what is happening in the British Parliament for the first time since the 18th century.

The injunction is only against the Guardian, which is why the Spectator is able to report the matter fully in a blog by Alex Massie although he notes there is no coverage of this story on the BBC website - although, in the time of writing this blog, there is now. And that’s how fast the new media moves…

Twitter is going mental about this (it’s all three of the top trending topics) and doubtless the story will develop as the day goes on. Can big business gag the free press? I think (and I hope) the Guardian will win this one…

BREAKING NEWS: and then, surfing a tidal wave of tweets, The Guardian wins its victory without even having to go to court. By preventing the newspaper from reporting a question about whether Trafigura was involved in illegally dumping toxic waste in Africa, the law firm Carter-Ruck sparked a massive storm in the Twitterverse, ensuring that more people now know about it than the entire readership of the Guardian for the week put together…

My favourite tweet from the whole episode?

(via @faustshausuk): I had never heard of #trafigura, but #Carter-Ruck have clearly never heard of the Internet: where EVERYTHING leaks.

Useful lesson in the power of social networking to influence legal decision-making, anyway. http://econsultancy.com/blog/4780-social-media-turns-toxic-avenger-for-the-guardian-trafigura-2

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