The Media is Helping to Normalise the Far-Right's Bigotry and Xenophobia
Political correctness gone mad. That is the trouble with the media these days. By bending over backwards to be “fair and balanced” to right-wing extremists, it has accidentally assisted their advance.
Take Marine Le Pen (no, go on, take her – as pre-PC comedians used to remark of their mothers-in-law). During the deluge of coverage of the French Presidential election, Le Pen and the Front National were routinely described in the respectable media as “anti-immigration”, “nationalist” or “eurosceptic”. These labels can all be applied to reasonable political positions. A fact-based argument about how much immigration is beneficial for the economy, employment and maintaining social services is a legitimate one to make. Nationalism of the inclusive, civic SNP variety can be an appealing call to revitalise societies and the way they are governed. Euroscepticism based on reducing the layers of government and keeping sovereignty closer to the voters offers decent grounds for democratic debate.
Describing Le Pen and her party in these terms does not remotely do them justice. It dangerously distorts the truth and colludes with their attempts to dupe people into supporting them by “detoxifying their brand”. Describing the Front National as “anti-immigration” suggests they feel the system needs a little tightening and that more people than the country can handle have arrived recently. But that is not what the FN are about. They are clearly not exercised about the of number of, say, white, Canadian accountants coming to France.
Instead, the FN has a long record of making statements and issuing campaign materials which are unequivocally anti-Semitic, Islamophobic, xenophobic and racist. It would not make it ok anyway, of course, but none of their incitements to hatred are exclusively targeted at recent immigrants. No distinction is made between them and people whose roots in France go back generations. It could hardly be clearer that when the FN say “anti-immigration” it is lightly coded language for “anti-anyone who is not white and of Christian background, whether they are ‘immigrants’ or not”. All French citizens and residents who do not share this heritage are equally targeted by the “blood and soil” version of “nationalism” espoused by the FN.
there is no justification for the media colluding in the dishonesty of such parties and aiding them by adopting their chosen code words
None of this is news or in any way a revelation. The FN was established to represent the views of World War II Nazi collaborators, participants in France’s worst colonial abuses and their sympathisers. Its founder and long-time leader was the holocaust-denying, openly racist Jean-Marie Le Pen. This was the man who said (repeatedly) “the gas chambers are a mere detail of history” and that African emigration “could be solved by Monseigneur Ebola inside three months”. That the exact same party is now led by his daughter hardly represents a convincing break with that “past”. Marine Le Pen’s supposed changes in tone are not a repudiation of it. They are merely a transparent attempt to draw in new supporters without alienating the FN’s hardcore base of bigots.
Ultimately, that is all up to the FN. However repulsive they are, the free speech upon which democracy relies necessitates allowing such parties to exist, at least until the point where their incitement or participation in violence warrants them being dealt with as a terrorist group. With great reluctance, I even accept that it their prerogative to be dishonest about their real opinions and intentions.
But there is no justification for the media colluding in the dishonesty of such parties and aiding them by adopting their chosen code words. The creed espoused by the FN and others like them is not new. It has a long history of causing carnage across Europe and the world. Consequently, there is no need to use relatively new and misleadingly neutral terms like “anti-immigration” or “Eurosceptic” to describe them. More accurate shorthand descriptors have long been available such as “racist”, “fascist” and “neo-Nazi”.
The FN have been the most prominent purveyors of poison to have benefitted from overly PC media coverage over recent months. Whilst defeated in the Presidential election, they will be back. And similar points could of course be made regarding their allies in other countries. Tragically for Britain, UKIP’s work is now largely done – thanks in no small part to their safe seat on the nation’s TV politics shows, even when they had none in Parliament. The lesson for the future to be drawn from these experiences is that when far-right parties feel the need to disguise their beliefs, the media should not feel obliged to help them out.
About the author
Paul Knott began his working life in a hut on Hull's King George Dock before globetrotting for two decades as an unlikely British envoy. His "instructive and funny" (Alan Johnson MP) book about his experiences, "The Accidental Diplomat", is out now.
He is also the Chief Foreign Correspondent for the Sabotage Times and contributes to publications such as The Telegraph, Forty-20 and When Saturday Comes.
All that travel has failed to shift Paul's inherited old Labour instincts.
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