The relationship between tabloid reporting and the increase in the BNP's popularity is an interesting one to look at.
We know tabloid nonsense gets churnalised over on the BNP's website, we know that the party advertises and sells Melanie Phillips' book via its website, and we know the policy of attacking Muslims rather than any other group is based on the prominence of negative stories in the news media, so it seems the tabloids are at least contributing to an environment where far right ideas may seem more attractive to some.
There is still a little bit of ambiguity between cause and effect here though. Does tabloid coverage cause people to vote for the BNP, or are the tabloids merely reflecting a rightward shift in public opinion? I know what I think, but you know what? I'm not going to bother arguing it right now. And that's because it's much much easier to show how the tabloids contribute to support for the campaign of new ball-'eds on the block, the English Defence League, to kick off violent confrontations with
The EDL have produced a video to drum up support for their campaign to
The video's a bit rubbish, and amounts to a series of still images juxtaposed against each other to stirring music. Rumbold at Pickled Politics has pointed out the pisspoor crusader imagery, but there is a series of 22 images in the video that are of particular interest to this blog.
These 22 images are of headlines from the news media and around the internet - headlines to negative stories about Muslims. Only three of these stories are not from the mainstream media. Here's a league table of where the 19 that are left come from:
1. The Daily Mail/Mail on Sunday (8)
2. The Daily/Sunday Express (4)
3. The Daily/Sunday Telegraph (3)
4. The BBC (1)
5. The (DGMT owned) Evening Standard (1)
Here's the surprising thing. Only six of those stories are about specific terrorist plots, and none are about 9/11 or 7/7. Rather than stories including emotive images of the twin towers exploding or the Russell Square bus with the roof blown off, the remaining 12 articles pictured are examples of scaremongering about sharia law, the number of schoolchildren speaking English as a second language and so on. It would probably be useful to go through them and give quick and dirty rundown of the 'ooga-booga look at the scary brown people mainstream articles' used for recruitment to the EDL cause.
Daily Mail/Mail on Sunday
Will Britain one day be Muslim? - an opinion piece (in the 'News' section and not flagged as opinion), which mentions 'the enemy within', scaremongers with guff about birth rates and bigs up Mark Steyn.
Britain has 85 sharia courts: The astonishing spread of the Islamic justice behind closed doors - from our old friend, Steve Doughty. While the article does manage to bury the fact that the law allowing the courts to operate also covers Jewish Beth Din courts, it includes a lovely big box headlined 'The elders who dole out justice in secret'. Ooh, spooky.
Schoolboys punished with detention for refusing to kneel down and pray to Allah - a story that fails to explain or link to later information about the case that revealed that the boys were not given detention for failing to kneel and pray to Allah. You might have thought that would be relevant. It wouldn't have mattered much if the EDL had included screenshots from the story that revealed that the teacher had never made pupils kneel and pray to Allah or put anyone in detention for refusing to do so anyway, as it was still headlined Teacher sacked after 'making pupils kneel and pray to Allah' during RE lesson. Hurrah for truth and honesty.
English-speaking pupils are a minority in inner-city London primary schools - the headline there is a lie. Pupils who speak English as their first language are a minority in inner London primaries. Hurrah. Truth and honesty.
The Pope must die, says Muslim - now, Anjem Choudhary is a prick, and there are better ways do describe him than merely by his religion. Like, er, 'prick'.
Government renames Islamic terrorism as 'anti-Islamic activity' to woo Muslims - a James Slack classic. The headline makes the value judgment that terrorism carried out by Muslims is 'Islamic' at the same time as offering a false reason for the change in the way such terrorism is referenced. The article later reveals that the change is because "Security officials believe that directly linking terrorism to Islam is inflammatory, and risks alienating mainstream Muslim opinion" - and that Jaqui Smith used the term once rather than it becoming the official government label for such activity. Truth and honesty?
HATE PREACHER: I WANT SHARIA LAW IN BRITAIN - there's a better description of Anjem Choudhary than 'Muslim'. Or 'prick', for newspaper purposes at least.
NOW MUSLIM CLERICS TO TEACH OUR CHILDREN - a repeat of scaremongering stories from March 2008, in which the paper expressed outrage that schools should be considering allowing 'Muslim clerics' to talk about Islam in school religious education. I covered these earlier stories in Fury over children being taught together and learning about one another and Fury over paper printing nonsense front page headlines.
MUSLIM SCHOOLS BAN OUR CULTURE - need I say any more?
BROWN: DON'T SAY TERRORISTS ARE MUSLIMS - the headline isn't actually true. It refers to the same sort of thing as the Mail story above. Although that one came six months later.
The Daily/Sunday Telegraph
We want to offer Sharia Law in Britain - a more sober look at sharia courts from the Telegraph, which still manages to open with a negative vignette about the 'mundane' tasks they carry out.
CIA warns Barack Obama that British terrorists are the biggest threat to the US - a story actually about how a former CIA officer who had advised Obama told the Telegraph that the biggest threat was from Britain. Not, as the headline would suggest, a story about how Obama is currently being advised by the CIA that Britain is definitely the greatest terrorist threat to the US.
The Evening Standard
I want to see flag of Allah flying over Downing St - Anjem Choudhary again.
Now, although the EDL do further monkey around with these stories with the way they're juxtaposed (putting the more sober Telegraph story next to the fearmongering ones from the Express and Mail, or the one about children not being able to speak English next to ones about Muslim Schools 'banning our culture' for instance) most of their work has been done for them. Even the papers themselves create false impressions by monkeying around with the juxtaposition of images and words and even entire stories, just like the EDL. Look at the Mail story scaremongering and making false claims about the number of school pupils who can't speak English. It only tangentially involves Muslims, and yet it's included in an anti-Muslim video because the picture the paper used to illustrate it includes a girl in a headscarf.
But it's not just the careful placement of images and stories that the tabloids help out with.
Of the six Mail headlines that aren't about specific terrorist plots, three are false (I'm including the 'detention for not kneeling and praying to Allah' story because the updated version is false), one is opinion dressed as news, one is reporting the results of a right wing think-tank as absolute truth and the last labels a ridiculous extremist merely with his religion, which is about as useful as labelling him 'bearded man'.
Of the four Express headlines, three have been exaggerated beyond the recognition of the facts in the story itself, and two perform the famous Express trick of casting Muslims as not 'us' or 'ours'.
The rest (including the ones from the Telegraph and Standard) are either spun in a quietly negative manner or reporting something Anjem Choudhary has said. There's little wrong with those things by themselves, but when they're included alongside misleadingly exaggerated scaremongering - as they are in the papers themselves as well as the EDL video, they don't really help community relations very much.
I've left aside the ones about terrorist plots, because you can't really blame papers for reporting these. They have also been exaggerated, but not only by the papers. Obsolete has more about these, and they're not exactly straightforward themselves.
So there you have it. Tabloid distortion used directly to recruit for extreme right-wing activity. I'm not merely surmising that these stories might help in this aim - I'm showing recruiting material that deliberately uses direct screenshots of the stuff I write about here to stir up support for the goons we've seen trying to provoke violence - sometimes successfully - in recent months.
Here's the difficult question. Would the EDL exist to produce this video at all if it wasn't for the sort if dishonest coverage the video contains?