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Why we refused councillor's call for political censorship

PUBLISHED: 13:30 26 February 2007 | UPDATED: 14:28 07 September 2010

SHOULD the Ham&High have given the British National Party the oxygen of publicity when we allowed a spokesperson to comment on the halal meat row? That is a question that has been put to us, usually in a genuinely inquisitive manner but in the case of o

SHOULD the Ham&High have given the British National Party the 'oxygen of publicity' when we allowed a spokesperson to comment on the halal meat row? That is a question that has been put to us, usually in a genuinely inquisitive manner but in the case of one particular Labour councillor, in a decidedly more inflammatory mode.

The answer has to be Yes, and here is why. Firstly, the BNP is a legally-constituted political party, its candidates already serving on some councils (thankfully it has yet to achieve a mandate in this borough).

The BNP stood accused of organising intimidating calls to a primary school, to the extent that the phones had to be taken off the hook. Was this true? And if so, what had the party to say about behaviour that we and all right-thinking people would have had unreservedly condemned?

We put the allegation to the BNP. A representative went some way towards defusing the situation by putting it on the record that any objection on this matter would be through the proper channels, in the proper manner.

The Ham&High is a responsible newspaper which would not have printed comments deliberately designed to inflame the situation. But what of the view that we were wrong to allow or invite any comment at all from the BNP?

The phrase 'oxygen of publicity' was famously used by Margaret Thatcher when implementing a broadcasting ban, primarily aimed at Sinn Fein, on a dozen or so loyalist and republican organisations in Northern Ireland. It was a knee jerk reaction to a particularly loathsome act of terrorism but, sadly, it was also as daft a piece of legislation as was ever dreamed up by anyone credited with common sense.

Somehow she believed that depriving Sinn Fein's brothers in arms of 'the oxygen of publicity' would help the situation in Northern Ireland. It didn't, of course. Many Labour members strongly denounced that ban on the grounds that in the precious environment of an open democracy, it could not be justified, no matter how painful the circumstances.

What giant leap in thinking does it now take for Labour party members in this borough to call for other politicians to be censored, not only when their views are extreme, but as a matter of newspaper policy?

Censorship of any kind is a dangerous weapon, and all the more so when applied to politics.

It is almost beyond belief that here in Camden, in this enlightened age, we have politicians who still believe that the way forward is through the suppression of views, rather than free expression.


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