'Independent' accused over BNP: Publication of letter condemned, but columnist warns against censorship. Mary Braid reports

THE INDEPENDENT was yesterday accused of 'irresponsible and complacent' reporting of the ultra-right British National Party in the run-up to last week's council elections.

In a debate on media treatment of the neo-Nazi organisation, the investigative journalist Paul Foot singled out a letter from the BNP, published in the Independent, which claimed the party was anti-violence and pro-free speech. 'You know that is not the case,' Mr Foot said. 'To publish the letter was quite irresponsible.'

Yesterday's debate between Mr Foot and Andrew Marr, the Independent's political columnist, followed a month-long row which began when Mr Foot and five other journalists from Media Workers Against the Nazis wrote to the newspaper protesting about the BNP letter. They argued that the normal rules of free speech and expression could not apply to those who aimed to deny basic rights and freedoms to sections of the population.

Yesterday Mr Foot also claimed several Independent reports had been too uncritical of the BNP, an organisation which advocates the forcible removal of more than 6 million ethnic minority citizens from Britain. He said the BNP had received a disproportionate amount of publicity and argued journalists should 'self-censor' on the basis of social consequences and ensure 'no platform for fascist propaganda'.

Different criteria were needed because fascist propaganda could not be separated from violent attacks on Asian and black people.

The history of the 20th century showed the danger of providing the 'privilege' of free speech to a group which would 'wipe out free speech forever' should it gain power.

Andrew Marr, political columnist of the Independent, said Mr Foot's arguments were characterised by 'bad history, bad politics, bad tactics and bad logic'.

He said: 'Supporting a 'no platform for the BNP' position I would find it hard to explain how Sinn Fein and extremist parties in Northern Ireland need to be reported, investigated and discussed.'

Mr Marr feared widespread revulsion for Nazis might be the first step towards 'routine censorship'. Far from being a privilege, free speech was the very basis of a democratic society. Incitement to violence and racial abuse were not allowed 'but by and large we assume that bad arguments and false logic can be dealt with. It's a matter of whether you have faith in your fellow citizens and in your own arguments'.

He warned that the way to tackle the BNP was not to 'stick a plaster over a repulsive growth'. It had to be looked at intently and analysed. Without thorough reporting, people might think there were 1,500 paid-up neo- Nazis on the Isle of Dogs. The reality was that many people there were suffering bad housing and high unemployment. Ignored by politicians they had reacted aggressively and voted BNP.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Life and Style
fashionHealth concerns and 'pornified' perceptions have made women more conscious at the beach
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Sport
Ojo Onaolapo celebrates winning the bronze medal
commonwealth games
Arts and Entertainment
Rock band Led Zeppelin in the early 1970s
musicLed Zeppelin to release alternative Stairway To Heaven after 43 years
Arts and Entertainment
High-flyer: Chris Pratt in 'Guardians of the Galaxy'
filmHe was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
Sport
Van Gaal said that his challenge in taking over Bobby Robson's Barcelona team in 1993 has been easier than the task of resurrecting the current United side
footballA colourful discussion on tactics, the merits of the English footballer and rebuilding Manchester United
Life and Style
Sainsbury's could roll the lorries out across its whole fleet if they are successful
tech
Travel
The shipping news: a typical Snoozebox construction
travelSpending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
Arts and Entertainment
'Old Fashioned' will be a different kind of love story to '50 Shades'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Tracey Emin's 'My Bed' is returning to the Tate more than 15 years after it first caused shockwaves at the gallery
artTracey Emin's bed returns to the Tate after record sale
Arts and Entertainment
Smart mover: Peter Bazalgette
filmHow live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences
Environment
Neil Young performing at Hyde Park, London, earlier this month
environment
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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 General

Project Coordinator

Competitive: The Green Recruitment Company: The Organisation: The Green Recrui...

Project Manager (HR)- Bristol - Upto £400 p/day

£350 - £400 per annum + competitive: Orgtel: Project Manager (specializing in ...

Embedded Linux Engineer

£40000 - £50000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Embedded Sof...

Senior Hardware Design Engineer - Broadcast

£50000 - £65000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: Working for a m...

Day In a Page

Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

Broadcasting plays and exhibitions to cinemas is a sure-fire box office smash
Shipping container hotels: Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Spending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but these mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
Native American headdresses are not fashion accessories

Feather dust-up

A Canadian festival has banned Native American headwear. Haven't we been here before?
Boris Johnson's war on diesel

Boris Johnson's war on diesel

11m cars here run on diesel. It's seen as a greener alternative to unleaded petrol. So why is London's mayor on a crusade against the black pump?
5 best waterproof cameras

Splash and flash: 5 best waterproof cameras

Don't let water stop you taking snaps with one of these machines that will take you from the sand to meters deep
Louis van Gaal interview: Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era

Louis van Gaal interview

Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era
Will Gore: The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series

Will Gore: Outside Edge

The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series
The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz