Archive for October, 2009

The Rise of Twitter

Posted on October 30, 2009. Filed under: media, Twitter |

While just 14 per cent of the general population are regular Twitterers, the collective speed and force of their tweets has proved more powerful than established media in recent weeks. It was the Twitterati that launched an all out attack on Jan Moir’s distasteful article on the death of Stephen Gately and helped the Guardian trump the ‘super injunction’ and bring Triafagura’s deceit to light.

Meanwhile, organisations such as Wikileak, Digiactive and Engagemedia are helping the public mobilise strategic online campaigns with significant consequences.

Increasingly, Twitter is becoming a subject of the news and an agenda-setter in its own right. Gone are the days when the morning newspaper could dictate the days news agenda, and  as Emily Bell pointed out, it was failure to realise this that landed Moir in such trouble. Putting vehement words in the inflexibility and permanency of print is now like playing all your cards at once, only to stand by as others play long into the night without you. There is no entry point for the print journalist into the rapid exchange of ideas which swarm and morph almost as soon as the paper comes off the press. Of course many journalists are now avid Twitter users and most publish online, but increasingly it is the collective force of comments, lead by high-profile thinkers such as Stephen Fry that have the upper hand.

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Many questions, but few answers from Question Time.

Posted on October 23, 2009. Filed under: media, This Week in the News |

BNP leader Nick Griffin’s much anticipated appearance on BBC’s Question Time did not give the party legitimacy as many feared, but allowed all others to bask in comparative glory. And how could they not? Griffin appeared impish, weak, inconsistent and deceptive, nodding along with the audience when it suited him and laughing strangely when it didn’t.

“I can’t tell you why I used to say those things any more than I can tell you why I have changed my mind,” he said in response to a Jewish audience member’s question as to why he once equated the “myth of the holocaust” with the myth of the earth’s flatness. His blatant lies, strange facial expressions and obvious discomfort roused the audience into camaraderie-amusement and mounted anger interchangeably, allowing other panellists to sit in benign smugness, like school children praised for their good behaviour.

Leftist viewers may have been surprised to find themselves nodding along with Conservative spokeswoman for community cohesion and crowned most powerful Muslim woman in Britain, Sayeeda Warsi, who perhaps came off best on the show. Time and time again Warsi articulately debunked the BNP in a calm and measured tone. She challenged Jack Straw to have “an honest debate about immigration,” which he seemed unable to do. She said political parties must engage with BNP voters and address their feelings of disenfranchisement.

In a way it was a shame that the whole attention was on Nick Griffin because it conveniently allowed other panellists, who actually have a direct bearing on policy, to dodge the questions. As much as a chance to denounce the BNP,  it was a chance for others to pose and posture. Even those that weren’t on the show generated their own publicity. Welsh MP, Peter Hain, has become a household name for his vocal opposition to the program.

It was only historian, playwright and author Bonnie Greer, who refreshingly unconcerned with her own public appearance, addressed the issues in a human and witty fashion.

“I am not a politician, I don’t know anything about politics,” she said unapologetically, by way of opening and later, turning to Griffin, “You have to change your constitution now, that will be interesting. You can laugh,” she said as he nervously giggled beside her, “but if I was a BNP member, I’d be scared.”  To which, strangely, he began clapping.

She later said the experience was “one of the weirdest and most creepy experiences” in her life.”

The BBC has also created its own publicity, generating a huge leap in ratings and unprecedented news coverage. The Guardian devoted its front page and a two page spread were devoted to the topic while it unleashed a Twitter storm.

In the end the show was an opportunity for the audience and the impressively measured panel members to hold the BNP to account. It did hold an uncompromising mirror to the BNP and forced Nick Griffin to explain his party’s views. But it was the claps, though small, of support for his anti-Islamic and anti-immigration spiels that we must be most concerned with. The BNP has been publicly ridiculed, but it is the supporters that need to be challenged and given an alternative, if it is to be defeated.

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The BBC and the BNP

Posted on October 16, 2009. Filed under: This Week in the News |

The furore over the BNP and its various planned and past appearances on the BBC raise many questions about the role of the public broadcaster and the nature of free speech.

The appearance of BNP representatives, party publicity director, Mark Collett, 28, and Joseph Barber, 24, who runs the BNP record label, Great White Records, on Radio 1 may not be cause for concern in itself (if you ignore the fact that the radio station essentially operates as a top 40 commercial station with government funding, and is not generally interested in politics). However the presenters handling of the interview was alarming. The introduction of the guests as “Mark and Joey” not only deliberately concealed their identities and roles in the party, but suggests a matey-jokey relationship which surely should not feature on air between any BBC presenter and political party member. The New Statesman has published the transcript here.

Meanwhile the party’s planned appearance on the BBC’s Question Time has caused MP Peter Hain to make a formal complaint to the broadcaster and the program will be filmed at a secret location due to security concerns. The BBC maintains it is its duty to subject all political parties to rigorous and impartial interrogation, which begs the question when does a point of view become legitimate and who should decide? Hain said this week the exposure of the party on the public broadcaster gives its views legitimacy and is fundamentally wrong.

The election of two BNP members to the European Parliament in June suggests that to many, the party does have legitimacy and while to a majority of people its views are abhorrent, anti-social and fascist, can we ignore this gain? Is it the BBC’s role to shut out those it does not agree with no matter how distasteful? Surely it would be more effective to denounce the party live and on air and in a sustained campaign to show the BNP its views are not acceptable in modern society.

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