Saturday, March 13, 2010

BNP: should they be allowed to advertise?

Newspapers and online news organisations face an interesting decision as we prepare for the general election: should the BNP be allowed to advertise in our publications?

It's a question which polarises opinion.

Take this from Hackney TUC:
The presence of a BNP advert (which will also be a recruitment tool) in a Hackney paper will be an insult to the people of Hackney who have a strong tradition of resisting the BNP and their ilk. It will be an insult to black people, to Jews, to people with disabilities, to trade unionists, to gays and lesbians, to faith leaders, to women and to anyone who opposes their politics of hatred. In fact, there can be hardly anyone in Hackney who will not be repulsed by the thought of the BNP seeking to establish a visible presence in Hackney.
And this from media pundit Roy Greenslade:

Journalists should support freedom of expression and accept that it means reading and hearing material that they find offensive. Better that we do that than play into the BNP's hands by censoring it.

Think about it for a moment. If a liberal society is prepared to stifle freedom of speech then it provides fascist parties with a justification for their illiberal policies.

Hackney TUC is 'outraged' that their local paper, the Hackney Gazette, has decided to publish adverts from the BNP:
We want to approach every newsagent in Hackney and ask them to send a fax to the publisher protesting at the plan to give advertising space to the BNP and cancelling their order for this week’s paper unless it drops the BNP advert.

We need to approach the regular advertisers (principally estate agents) and ask them to use their economic influence with the Gazette to pressurise for the adverts to be dropped.

We need some volunteer ‘community leaders’ to seek to meet with the paper on Monday or Tuesday to put our case.

Please send email’s of (polite) protest to the publisher
According to Greenslade, the newspaper owners, Archant, say that to refuse such ads "might be playing into the hands of those intolerant and anti-democratic forces that people condemn. It is for the electorate to cast judgement, not us."

My own views are perhaps closest to those expressed by former New Statesman editor Peter Wilby who argues that certain issues constitute a 'special case':
Anything to do with race ... falls into a special category. Racism (including Islamophobia) is peculiarly repugnant because it attacks people at the core of their identity, an identity that cannot easily be altered or hidden as political opinions can.

Some black or Jewish people will be genuinely frightened — as opposed to merely indignant — if they see an ad for the BNP or Irving’s books in their favourite paper. Their friends, they may feel, have deserted them. People who wish them serious harm are being given respectability.

That is what makes such ads so difficult for editors to call. The most central principles for any liberal society — freedom of speech and opposition to racism — come into direct conflict. At least, as an ex-editor, I don’t have to make such decisions any more.
However, I am still an editor and do have to make such decisions. I have already warned our ad director how I feel about this, but what do you think? Would I be right to ban such ads from the BNP?