Lack of Scrutiny of Far-Right Figures Reveals the Shortcomings of the Mainstream Press

The past week has seen two cases of the establishment media falling to properly tackle a developing confluence of hard and far-right politics in the UK, with independent and alternative outlets left to pick up the pieces. 

Following Friday’s conviction of Darren Osborne for his murderous terror attack on Finsbury Park Mosque, BBC’s Newsnight interviewed Stephen Lennon, better known as Tommy Robinson, former leader of The English Defence League and a man with a range of convictions including for violence and fraud. Robinson is one of many people who contributed to Osborne’s radicalisation. 

As reported by Another Angry Voice, Newsnight’s Kirsty Walk failed to hold hate-preacher Robinson to account. This is a man who has joked about the terrorist mass murder of children, but the chances are that Walk hasn’t even bothered to find that out. 

It’s one thing for the BBC to interview such a man, quite another to give him a relative softball time and to give him a platform to air more of the spin, lies and hate that radicalised Osborne in the first place. 

It’s worth noting that The Independent ran solid and thorough coverage of the trial and that the main reporter was harassed on Twitter for her coverage. But this is a scene on which many establishment journalists either don’t know or don’t care about. Indeed far-right sites and pages often feature shares of fear mongering articles from such billionaire outlets as The Daily Mail, a paper which has historically and overly supported fascism.

The second instance of the establishment press failing to properly dissect an event involves a protest and minor scuffle last week when Jacob Rees Mogg addressed students at The University of West England. 

The media have constructed a dispro- portionately large profile for such a backbencher as Mogg, a phenomenon that The Media Fund has covered previously

Mogg has consorted with the Reich apologists of Traditional Britain and more recently met with Steven Banon, who has played a major role in the modern advance of extreme right-wing politics in the US. 

The basics of this story are that violence was initiated by one of Mogg’s supporters following loud heckling from opponents. But much of the media preferred to run this as a “red menace” story, blaming “free speech hating” leftists etc. History fans will know that rightists instigating violence and blaming the left has a rather long pedigree. 

It was left to independent journalists and The Media Fund partners at Sqwawkbox to reveal in an exclusive that the violence was started by someone with a penchant for dressing as a Nazi, without even Prince Harry’s excuse of being very young at the time.

The event was filmed by Breitbart, which recently jettisoned Bannon after a feud with Trump. It should ring alarm bells that they were even there at all, and some people strongly suspect that the scuffle was at least partly staged to continue building support for Mogg on the hard-right. 

Amusingly, the Breitbart logo on the video has a British Union Flag backdrop, despite them being owned by US hard-right billionaires, The Mercer family. 

One of Mogg’s appeals is his disarming politeness, something which probably makes rowdy reactions to him look bad, but the online support for him tends to not be so refined. He has become a new champion for hard-rights from a world of people and rhetoric that had previously been in the environs of the EDL, UKIP and the more extreme end of the Brexit movement. The adoration from his fanbase is of a nature described as “messianic” in the case of Corbyn, but Mogg’s following have escaped that label thus far. 

Far-right agitators, Britain First were also quick to leap to Mogg’s defense after the scuffle. 

Mogg’s profile is set to rise yet further. He may well even be the next conservative leader or Prime Minister. His hard-right politics may or may not come under sufficient scrutiny, depending on how much of an obsession with his personality detracts from them. But there seems less hop of proper attention being given to the nastier movement gathering around him, with large chunks of the media being part of that movement. 

Whether systemic, deliberate or just a product of incompetence, the establishment media’s highly paid journalists seem to know less about what’s happening on the right of politics and the basic dynamics behind fascism than countless anti-fascists and journalists working with far more modest means.

Stephen Durrant

The Media Fund