Over the last few days, following my increasing interactions with the detritus of contemporary British fascism, I’ve made the argument that the British media is directly responsible for legitimising and fuelling the rise of the far right. The hatred directed, on a daily basis, against Muslims, migrants, refugees, LGBTQ people, and other minorities, has had already horrifying real world consequences: worse is to come.
It is the proprietors and editors who bear the greatest responsibility for this media campaign of hatred. But the journalists who write such stories have to be held to account, too. The idea that building their own careers is more important than not helping to whip up bigotry and hatred against already vulnerable minorities is perverse. They may think it’s a price worth paying to “make it”, but the price is not paid by them — it’s paid by other people in the streets, in school yards, in workplaces and in communities.
But there’s something I want to rectify, too. Eight years ago, my first book, Chavs: The Demonisation of the Working Class was published by the brilliant left-wing publisher Verso. A large part of the book is about the media’s systematic demonisation of working-class communities, and a key section of the book is about the Hillsborough Disaster — a disaster which happened in significant part because of the demonisation of working-class football fans — and the subsequent sickening lies peddled by The Sun newspaper.
I hadn’t expected the book to get much attention — it only did because people wanted to talk about class again because of the financial crash, the Tory assumption of power and the beginning of austerity — and it was a disorientating whirlwind, to say the least.
But that doesn’t excuse a big mistake. When it was published in 2011, The Sun newspaper asked for a piece on the book; the arguments put to me (not by the paper I should clarify) was, well, you’ve already got this pre-written piece that hasn’t been used, partly about how the media demonises benefit claimants, you’d reach Sun readers with arguments that challenge the newspaper’s bile and hatred. So I agreed for them to have the blog (they stripped all the mentions of benefit claimants and focused on how working-class people were demonised on TV).
I refused to take a fee and thought that made it OK, but actually, it doesn’t. The reasons at the time I had for giving them the piece — reaching Sun readers with arguments against the newspaper’s editorial line — were extraordinarily naive. Giving them any copy whatsoever just legitimises the paper.
So accordingly I’m going to make a £500 donation to the Hillsborough Justice Campaign, and I’m very sorry for giving them copy.
This country is in a terrible mess, and the hatred spewed by the British press on a daily basis has contributed to that mess. The Sun and other newspapers have to be held to account, and that includes challenging proprietors, editors and, yes, journalists alike for racism and bigotry which causes misery and even endangers people’s safety. We have to stop passively accepting the poison pumped into British society on a daily basis by the press as just one of those things like the weather. It isn’t, and it has to be confronted and defeated.