Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Why is the BBC afraid to call UKIP a nationalist party?

Populism is other people, according to the British media.

Austria's presidential election on Sunday, in which the country came within a hair's breadth of electing its first far-right head of state since World War II, has generated a new round of media coverage on the rise of extremist parties across Europe.

Today the BBC published an analysis of the 'Widespread revolt against the political centre', tracing the rise of these parties. It is accompanied by a map showing the percentage of votes won by "nationalist parties" in the most recent elections. 

Notice anything strange about this map? According to the BBC, the UK is either not part of Europe, or has no nationalist party. 

The last general election in the UK was last year, more recent than several of the countries that are labelled on this map.

Contrast this with an analysis on the same subject published by the New York Times on Sunday. The American paper of record is not afraid to designate UKIP as "right-wing" and place it in a category with the other nationalist parties on the rise throughout Europe.

The BBC's coverage of the European turn to the right has consistently made this omission. Here is an earlier BBC 'guide to nationalist parties challenging Europe' that makes no mention of UKIP. 

This type of thing is endemic across the British media. Here is another article about the rise of the far-right in Europe, by The Guardian, which does not include the UK on a list of countries with a far-right. The UK media has for years refused to acknowledge, or confront, the growing nationalism in England.

People in glass houses...

So which European parties are far-right nationalist, according to the BBC? The virulently anti-EU and anti-immigrant Swiss Peoples Party (SVP), the largest party in the Swiss parliament, is listed as one. So is the anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany, which does not want Germany to pull out of the EU but rather just out of the euro. 

But the UK Independence Party (UKIP), which got 13% of the vote in last year's general election and the most votes of any party in the 2014 European election (27%), is apparently not a nationalist party according to the BBC.

Nevermind that many of UKIP's positions are further to the right than other parties on this map (DPP or True Finns, for example, do not want to pull out of the EU). Nevermind that the UKIP party platform is pretty much the textbook definition of nationalism. The UK is up there floating in white above the rest of the continent, looking down at all this nationalism foolishness with bemusement.

It is showed in white along with countries that legitimately do not have any strong far-right nationalist parties, such as Ireland, Spain and Portugal. I saw a similar map broadcast on BBC World this afternoon.

Why the omission? The most likely explanation is that the BBC did not want to have to make a call about whether to classify UKIP as far-right or nationalist. 

This is quite typical of the BBC, which so often seems incapable of national self-reflection. When it comes to Britain's place in the world, or its comparisons with other countries, the BBC seems to have an ideological block. Call it 'British exceptionalism'.

Witness the breathless coverage of the rise of Donald Trump in America, something the British media generally has treated with a tone of condescending concern, as if they were talking about a mentally retarded cousin who has gotten himself into trouble. 

Yet as they talk about how horrible it is that this nationalist populism is on the rise in America, they fail to see that the same nationalist populism is dominating the Brexit debate in their own country.
See also: Brexit is the British Trump
So is the failure to call UKIP a nationalist party legitimate, or tainted by BBC national bias? The fact that media in other countries such as the New York Times are not afraid to call UKIP a nationalist party indicates that it is national bias, or at the very least, oversensitivity to national political considerations.

The American papers do not hesitate to link the rise of nationalist movements across the Atlantic to the rise of Trump in their own country. So why is the BBC afraid to link those movements across the Channel to their own political developments?

Yes, the BBC is a public service broadcaster and must be careful to show fair balance. But if that restriction means they can't include the UK in any analysis of a global phenomenon, then they are effectively useless as a trusted global broadcaster. Then they are Russia Today.

At the very least, if they feel that they cannot classify UKIP as nationalist without violating their appearance of objectivity, then they could at least include a disclaimer on the map saying that it is only looking at continental Europe. 

But if that's what they choose, they shouldn't expect international readers outside the UK to pay any attention. Because if they are so tailored to the political and ideological sensitivities of the British public, they're not of much use to the rest of us.


Brian said...

It's quite ironic and shocking, isn't it? An entire article in the BBC about political revolt from the center across Europe and not a single mention of BREXIT?

APF said...

Your use of a photo of the BBC's Glasgow office actually hints for me at the BBC's thinking here. During the Scottish independence referendum that office was subjected to a massive demonstration by Scottish nationalists demanding the head of Nick Robinson (then BBC political editor) for alleged bias in favour of the UK - http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-scotland-29196912.

I suspect that they are now, as you suggest, trying to be seen to play their role as impartial broadcaster as much as possible, so as to avoid a repeat of 2014, so are avoiding tarring UKIP with any brush whatsoever, no matter how justified (remember when UKIP had to explicitly state it was a non-racist party - they very fact they needed to specify that tells you a lot..)

On the same note, one could include the SNP in the calculation as well. They are not in the same basket as the ethnic or xenophobic nationalists which the map deals with, but they are certainly populists exploiting a nationalist sentiment, albeit a civic one. Though substitute "Westminster" in their campaign language with "the English" and you would be excused for thinking otherwise.