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WANTED: A Responsible Media
The murder last year, of the Labour politician Jo Cox was a horrendous act committed by the far-right terrorist, Thomas Mair. Though he has not been labelled as a terrorist, the reality is that his actions were politically motivated, and a result of his ideological differences with the late MP. Over a year later, it is still important to ask questions so we know as a society, what led to such a heinous crime, and how it can be avoided in the future. Such questions are necessary in the current context, as can be seen by the racist abuse directed towards the likes of Diane Abbott and David Lammy for example, as well as the recent racist remark by Tory MP Anne Marie Morris.
The general election of 2015 was dominated by perceptions of Ed Miliband, and Labour’s incompetency, and lack of economic management. However, the issue of immigration dominated many headlines, and with Nigel Farage standing for UKIP in South Thanet, he diverted attention towards UKIP’s toxic dogma encouraging closed borders, and demonising migrants for the lack of jobs, as well as the perception that migrants had arrived for benefits.
Like a predator, the Tory party which is hardly the voice for minorities in any case, seized the moment, and David Cameron aimed to capitalise on this rhetoric by arguing that uncontrolled immigration would cause pressure on public services and push down wages. Furthermore, Theresa May as Home Secretary commissioned vans carrying slogans aimed at illegal immigrants, urging them to ‘go home’, menacingly. In addition to this the Labour Party instead of offering an alternative vision that was welcoming of migrants, as it thankfully did in 2017, joined the cause in 2015, producing cringe worthy mugs, and a plan for reducing numbers. Thus, the three largest parties, in terms of votes received, had all committed to a plan for tighter borders, all at the same time as the Mediterranean refugee crisis.
Such a scenario did not develop overnight. From the days of the Windrush generation of the 1940s, successive governments, society, and the media presented opposition to the influx of migrants. From the teddy boys, to the National Front in the 1980s, the actions of fascists and the far right were legitimised by successive government’s legislation that aimed to restrict the number of migrants. Such actions only enabled far-right views, and encouraged them, in the sense that they could witness their protest was working, as it resulted in government intervention.
Politicians and political parties have also enabled fear of the other and migrants, through using their power as the people’s representatives to further causes such as protests against asylum seekers, with many, most notably Michael Howard, claiming in the 1990s, that many refugees were just ‘bogus’ asylum seekers.
By 2016, during the EU referendum, the fear mongering had reached another high. Immigration was the main issue during the referendum, though that does not mean that Leave voters only voted for closed borders; a nuanced view must be taken, that accepts that many may have voted as a result of lies peddled by the Leave campaign such as the extra £350 million funding for the NHS, or for other reasons completely. Nevertheless, Nigel Farage standing confidently in front of a poster claiming Britain was at ‘Breaking Point’ due to the high number of immigrants reflected just how powerful the anti-immigrant voices had grown, and how far the far-right movement had come.
Looking at the modern context of racism in the 21st century, there is no doubt that the platforming of the far-right has only enabled racism, and the demonization of migrants and refugees. The far-right hold many figures as their heroes, from the likes of Katie Hopkinson, to Tommy Robinson, Milo Yiannopolous, and Nigel Farage. The fact that personalities such as Hopkins (formerly) and Farage are allowed their own radio shows on a channel as influential and popular as LBC is appalling, and reveals a culture of incompetence and irresponsibility in the British media. Hopkins has been normalised to such an extent, that she also had a night show on TLC. Such rich rewards for such appalling rhetoric, reveals that the media is either oblivious to, or does not care for the impact of the racism espoused by Hopkins. It reflects the fact that the news rooms and the editorial boards are predominantly male, stale and pale. The concerns of minorities remain unheard and brushed aside, while a loudspeaker supports the voices of oppression.
This is a recurring pattern that has been seen throughout the 20th century also. It is clear that racism is an ever-present feature in any society, that is clear, and the argument is not that it is caused wholly, or only by the media. However, it can be encouraged by the media, and this encouragement can lead to violence or to action. The 1950s persecution of the black community saw the rise of the Teddy Boys; gangs of young men who would go ‘n***** hunting’. The post-war era is seen as a period of liberal politics, which saw the citizens of the Commonwealth invited to Britain, however this was merely a means to an end. Labour shortages meant immigration was necessary to run the new NHS hospitals, as well as other public services such as buses and railways. Though such Acts were voted through, figures bemoaned the threat this posed to British society. The Ministry of Labour found many excuses not to employ black migrants, claiming they were lazy and unreliable (David Kynaston, Austerity Britain). Kynaston also writes in Modernity Britain, that Teddy Boys were motivated by black men having white girlfriends, and would use violence against them. Conditions in areas such as Hammersmith were deteriorating, with Tony Benn comparing it to a state of apartheid. This led to the Daily Mirror arguing migrants should have jobs before settling in the UK. Such a demand shows a lack of understanding of the reasons people have to migrate, as well as the fact that the blame was placed upon the migrants for the violence, rather than the violent perpetrators. Such claims further the cause of the far-right, and enable arguments for closed borders.
To bring this back to the current day, the media has a vital role to report accurately, rather than seeking profits by selling the stories that it believes the public wants to hear. The stale, pale and male boardrooms of the news channels, and papers are not at all reflective of society, and thus it is no surprise that in the 2017 election, they were so out of touch with the appeal of Corbyn, and a more progressive and socially just movement at the front of the Labour Party. Clearly a person who refers to refugees as ‘cockroaches’ is irresponsible, and to be rewarded for such actions reveals the immorality of the boardrooms, and of Fleet Street. Recently, the headlines have been dominated by the topic of acid attacks, a number of which have targeted Muslims. Such an act is reflective of teddy boy attacks in the 1950s, as a recurring pattern is evident in that it has been perpetuated by a media narrative that has sewn division within society, and enabled action to be taken by racist vigilantes. It is simply incorrect that all views must be tolerated, especially when some are so dangerous.