Shami Chakrabarti attacks BBC live on air over Newsnight platform for far-right Generation Identity

‘I know there’s been a lot of controversy about a Newsnight piece … where an extreme far-right voice was left essentially unchallenged’

Chiara Giordano
Sunday 17 March 2019 16:41 GMT
Shami Chakrabarti attacks BBC live on air over Newsnight platform for far-right Generation Identity

Shami Chakrabarti has criticised the BBC live on air, claiming the broadcaster allowed a far-right group leader to be “left essentially unchallenged” while talking about the Christchurch mosque attacks.

The shadow attorney general was speaking on BBC One’s The Andrew Marr Show on Sunday about how the internet cannot “continue to be an ungoverned space”.

She said mainstream media and “political actors” such as herself had a responsibility to be careful about “the tone of our discourse”, and questioned why broadcast and print media should have such different standards to “new media”.

Baroness Chakrabarti said: “I know there’s been a lot of controversy about a Newsnight piece that went out on Friday, the day of the massacre, where an extreme far-right voice was left essentially unchallenged.

“I think we all need to reflect on editorial decisions that we make and also on the tone of our discourse about things like ‘culture wars’ and ‘invaders’ and immigration, this othering of minorities.”

The senior Labour politician was referring to the leader of Generation Identity’s UK branch, Benjamin Jones, who was invited on the show to discuss the murders of 49 people at mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, that same day. The number of victims has since risen to 50.

The interview with the guest sparked outrage among many, and anti-racism campaigners accused the BBC of providing “a platform to racist hate”.

Nick Lowles, chief executive of anti-racism group Hope Not Hate, described the interview as “despicable” and called on the broadcaster to “apologise for the offence many people felt”.

The organisation, which monitors extremism, added: “The fact that Newsnight invited Generation Identity on to discuss the Christchurch terrorist attack, which was inspired in part by GI propaganda, shows the BBC has learned nothing from its elevation of Anjem Choudary before the 7/7 attacks.”

The programme repeatedly gave airtime to Choudary, who was jailed for more than five years in 2016 for supporting Isis.

A spokesperson for Newsnight said: “It is important we examine and challenge ideologies that drive hate crimes in a wider context, whether they have been distorted, and the connection they may have with any European or UK groups.”

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Richard Watson, the BBC journalist who spoke to Mr Jones, introduced the interview by saying Generation Identity “uses similar arguments” to those found in a self-styled manifesto published by Christchurch shooting suspect Brenton Tarrant.

Mr Tarrant’s main justification for the attack was the white genocide conspiracy theory, which claims that white people are being “replaced” by non-whites in western nations.

Generation Identity, a pan-European white nationalist movement, has propagated similar scare stories using tactics such as protests, publicity stunts and social media campaigns.

Last year the group was permanently banned from Facebook for breaching the social media site’s policies on extremist content.

The Independent has contacted the BBC for further comment.

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