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Saturday, April 14, 2018

Is Radio 4 weaponising racism by broadcasting the 'Rivers of blood' speech?

I have been struggling a bit with the decision of BBC Radio four to broadcast an actor voicing the entirety of Enoch Powell's 'Rivers of blood' speech from fifty years ago.

The BBC argues that the broadcast will include "rigorous journalistic analysis", that the speech will be placed in context and the show was not endorsing controversial views:

Delivered to local Conservative Party members in Birmingham, days before the second reading of the 1968 Race Relations Bill, then MP Powell referenced observations made by his Wolverhampton constituents including "in 15 or 20 years' time the black man will have the whip hand over the white man".

He ended with a quote from Virgil's Aeneid, when civil war in Italy is predicted with "the River Tiber foaming with much blood".

The anti-immigration speech ended his career in Edward Heath's shadow cabinet.

The Race Relations Act made it illegal to refuse housing, employment or public services to people because of their ethnic background.

Lord Adonis has called for today's broadcast to be cancelled, and has written to the regulator Ofcom. He believes that the speech was the "worst incitement to racial violence by a public figure in modern Britain".

He is right though I fear that other public figures have made attempts to match it since, not least the Nigel Farage 'Breaking point' poster that was unveiled during the EU referendum. And that is my problem with the broadcast.

It is not just the normalisation of racism by the BBC, it is legitimising the racism that followed it in the subsequent half century. It is impossible to achieve balance on this sort of abusive language both because of what has happened since and because of the ongoing storm over immigration ignited by Cameron's pledge to cut it to the tens of thousands and the current controversy over Brexit.

As one Twitter user says: "We can study racists without platforming and amplifying the racist things they say."

Anybody who has spent any time on social media will know what a cesspit it can be if you stumble onto the wrong sites and pages. People there can be no respecter of copyright.

I can forsee a scenario in which this acted out speech, shorn of all its context, appears on a viral video, perhaps with the 'Breaking point' poster as a back drop, as a means to promote foul and unsavoury views. And the BBC will have enabled that.

This broadcast is a massive misjudgement that undermines the corporation's duty to be balanced and impartial. It is bad enough that they made Farage and UKIP and continue to promote them with unprecedented exposure on Question Time and other current affairs programmes. With this programme they are standing over the abyss, they are opening a Pandora's box they may never be able to close.
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