The Media Column: How I found myself in a party political broadcast for the BNP

"Tell your parents to set the video, you're on television," said a friend at Five. "Really, what programme?" I inquired, trying to sound as if this might be one of a number of appearances my agent had arranged for me this month. The response - "The party political broadcast for the British National Party" - was not quite what I had been expecting.

Terrific. After years of writing about the dangers posed by right-wing extremists, contributing to their publicity material ahead of Thursday's elections was not something about which I was happy.

My presence on their broadcast was, at least, not a physical one: it was merely my by-line that was in front of camera, one of a series of cuttings deemed useful to the party's propaganda.

The piece in question was a report on Channel 4's decision to drop a documentary on a problem with Asian gangs in Bradford "grooming" underage white girls for sex and drug abuse.

After receiving a letter from the Chief Constable of West Yorkshire, Colin Cramphorn, who thought the timing of the programme created a risk of public disorder, Channel 4 decided to pull it from the schedule.

The Independent's headline, "Channel 4 drops show on 'abuse' of young white girls" (above right), was more sensitive than others, such as The Guardian's "Asian child sex film pulled over election fears" and, especially, the Daily Mirror's "Asian perverts show axed in race riots fear".

But it all suited the BNP, which branded the rescheduling as "politically correct censorship". It then submitted to Five an election broadcast that the channel deemed "likely to stir up racial hatred".

When the film was rejected, the BNP gleefully edited it to a ridiculous degree, littering it with what Five described as "bleeps and 'wind' sound effects" in an attempt to suggest more censorship.

In a statement, Five said it was obliged to show the film. "Having viewed the new version Five has reached the conclusion that, though largely incomprehensible, it does not breach the Programme Code."

What had begun as an attempt at responsible broadcasting had delivered a propaganda coup for the BNP, to which myself and other well-meaning journalists had inadvertently contributed.

The biggest loser in all this was the Asian population. Sunny Hundal, editor of Asians in Media, the online magazine, watched with horror as events unfolded.

"This was an example of good intentions that went horribly wrong. It shows why many Muslims and Asians in general have an uneasy relationship with the British media, which rightly demonises Abu Hamza, but lets Nick Griffin off lightly," Hundal told me. "I'm not for excessive censorship even when it comes to the BNP nor am I afraid of airing dirty laundry within the Asian community."

REX FEATURES, arguably Britain's best-known photographic press agency, is celebrating its 50th anniversary at a time when the controversy around the veracity of pictures has never been greater.

The capacity to enhance or alter images using computer technology and the cynicism of a public that has become accustomed to seeing doctored pictures on the internet have created credibility problems for photographers and camera operators alike.

We have had the doctoring of images of the Madrid bombings (on taste grounds) and, of course, the Mirror scandal.

When Rex was founded by Frank and Elizabeth Selby (with pictures stored in the front room of the family house), images were already being subtly improved.

Their son Mike, Rex's editorial director, says: "Nobody would argue if you removed a television aerial from somebody's head. It doesn't add or take anything away [from the picture]. Touching up with a brush for publication has been in the business for 150 years."

But as his brother John points out, "if you did any cleaning up it would be stated."

Rex has been subjected to attempts to "pass off" images. Mike well recalls a paparazzo trying to sell an image of an apparently pregnant Kim Basinger shopping in California. He says: "We thought: 'Great, there's money in this.' But when we looked at the rest of the film, she didn't have a bump."

The photographer's explanation was that doctoring techniques had become common in America.

According to John, the increased opportunity for altering images has coincided with a fall in standards among those who edit pictures for Britain's print media. "The digital revolution has meant a dive in quality. Editors don't worry so much about the quality of pictures any more," he says. "You look at more and more TV grabs being used. Nowadays, no one seems to care."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
election 2015The 10 best quotes of the campaign
News
A caravan being used as a polling station in Ford near Salisbury, during the 2010 election
election 2015The Independent's guide to get you through polling day
News
people
Voices
David Blunkett joins the Labour candidate for Redcar Anna Turley on a campaigning visit last month
voicesWhat I learnt from my years in government, by the former Home Secretary David Blunkett
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (B2B) - Romford - £40,000 + car

£35000 - £40000 per annum + car and benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager...

Guru Careers: Senior Account Manager / SAM

£30 - 35k: Guru Careers: A Senior Account Manager / SAM is needed to join the ...

Guru Careers: Management Accountant

£27 - 35k + Bonus + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Management Accountant is needed ...

Guru Careers: Recruitment Resourcer / Recruitment Account Manager

£20 - 25k + Bonus: Guru Careers: Are you a Recruitment Consultant looking to m...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

Typefaces still matter in the digital age

A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

Crisp sales are in decline

As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

Ronald McDonald the muse

A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
13 best picnic blankets

13 best picnic blankets

Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'